Fewer farmers than expected apply for Hawke's Bay drought funds

Hawke's Bay farmland in drought.
Hawke's Bay farmland in drought. Photo credit: RNZ

By Tom Kitchin of RNZ

A fund to help relieve Hawke's Bay farmers during a serious drought is not likely to reach its target of $2 million.

It has also had fewer farmers apply than predicted.

The mayoral drought relief fund was announced in May, after a plea from farmers to help them through what many believed was the worst drought in 100 years.

The money goes towards transporting feed to the region.

Local and central government raised $1m - $500,000 from central government, $200,000 each from the Hastings District Council and Hawke's Bay Regional Council, $50,000 from Central Hawke's Bay District Council and $50,000 from Centralines, the Central Hawke's Bay electricity supplier.

Since late May, the fund has only managed to raise $14,866 extra from a Givealittle page.

Napier City Council did not contribute to the fund. Mayor Kirsten Wise said tourism revenue in the city had "drastically reduced" due to COVID-19 and council funds had to cover that.

Hawke's Bay Rural Advisory Group co-chair Lochie McGillivray, who is coordinating the response, said they were "managing with the existing mayoral fund".

"If we get more money coming into the mayoral fund that'll be great and we'll definitely be able to expand the criteria. At this stage, I'm just focusing on the distribution of the first tranch of a million dollars."

McGillivray said he expected "more of a wave of requests" for funding but only about 150 farmers had applied.

"But, in discussions with other ag members, a number of farmers haven't been invoiced for their feed yet so they can't apply for the assistance yet. It's hard to know what the quantum is. That's something we're beavering away trying to figure out really.

"A letter did go out to local businesses but I'm not too certain on the success of that at that stage."

Through the fund, farmers with land greater than 150 hectares can receive no more than $1350. Those with land between 20-150 hectares can get up to $400.

"When we set out the criteria, we were operating on less than perfect information," McGillivray said.

"We were uncertain on how quickly that mayoral fund would disappear. Instead of turning people down, we made that criteria a little bit more tighter than we perhaps needed to so we're looking at loosening this up a little bit."

McGillivray said things were slowly looking up for farmers in the region - there had been better than expected pasture growth over the last month.

"The conditions have been mild weather wise, we haven't had a big run of frosts. The temperature hasn't been too bad but we've been lacking a bit of sun."

He said the current period was a "lonely phase" for farmers.

"Working long days, feeding out ... everybody has forgotten about the drought except for them. They're still struggling with a massive feed deficit.

"Once we get into September, a lot of the pressure will come off. The challenge then is getting business back to normal operations. It means there's an opportunity to look back on the previous months and look what they can do differently in the future and maybe re-think about their farm policies and infrastructure."