Hawke's Bay farmers desperate in drought: 'Mother nature has got it in for us'

Some farmers say it is the worst drought since the 1980s.
Some farmers say it is the worst drought since the 1980s. Photo credit: RNZ/Sally Round

By Eric Frykberg of RNZ

Farmers in Hawke's Bay are becoming desperate as drought conditions continue in their region.

A series of pictures have been posted on Facebook showing dehydrated paddocks, some with barely a blade of grass growing.

Feed brought in from outside is expensive and sometimes unavailable.

Occasional rain has done nothing to dent the real problem.

Valuable growing days are being lost as autumn drifts into winter, when cold weather will cut the rate of grass growth to just a flicker.

In normal times, farmers would send livestock to the works to take pressure off their land, but Covid-19 has required meat workers to spread out widely along the processing chain, cutting throughput by up to 50 percent, and leaving still more livestock banked up with nowhere to go.

One thing the government has done is to set up a feed advisory service, but Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay president Jim Galloway said this was not enough.

"The feed advisory service is just a feed budgeting service," he said.

"It says to farmers they need to buy feed or sell more stock or use nitrogen to get themselves out of the hole."

Galloway said farmers already knew this, and what was needed was real help, such as supplementary feed, which was hard to get hold of.

He said silage and hay were tough to obtain, and the same problem applied to grain or palm kernel.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said farmers needed to have taken special steps to prepare for this problem, and these measures should have been undertaken early.

Galloway said farmers in the region had already done what the minister said they should do.

"People have already spent a considerable amount of money on this," he said.

"There are several people I have spoken to who have spent $100,000 on extra feed or strategies of grazing to get them through the drought.

"One person is opening up a silage vat he has had for seven years, which was sitting there ready for an event like this.

"So people are taking steps, they are getting ready."

Galloway said some farmers told him this was the worst drought since the 1980s.

He said a feed coordinator would be the next step to help out along with help via the social welfare and taxation system.

Meanwhile, some of the Facebook comments reveal drought-struck farmers are anguished.

"Mother nature has got it in for us," said one.

"My paddock has been shut since early December," said another.

"The only green bits are weeds coming through."