With possible drought on the horizon, farmers begin planning ahead

Some parts of the country are experiencing the driest spring in decades.
Some parts of the country are experiencing the driest spring in decades. Photo credit: File / Getty

Farmers are already starting to plan how they will cope with possible drought this summer, with spring conditions the driest they've been in decades.

Some areas of the country are experiencing the driest October on record, and soil moisture level in parts of Canterbury and Otago is anywhere from 10ml to up to 50 ml below normal for this time.

Jared Ross, president of North Otago Federated Farmers, says the conditions are concerning, particularly as they come after a tough year for farmers.  

"We farm to the weather but [drought is] the elephant in the room, it is a real financial challenge and there's no getting away from that," Ross told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Tuesday.

"It is tough".

Ross said many farmers across the country were already struggling with low levels of feed.

"Stock overflow and processing issues in and around COVID restrictions has largely the autumn feed demand has been pushed through into the winter and very much now meaning that there is a void of available feed in this part of the world, so people are very much down to the last of whatever they've got or hunting it from the market and prices are reflecting that."

Already farmers have begun meeting to discuss management strategies, he said.

"We've been part of a few phone calls with MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries] and Rural Support Trust to try to reference the conditions locally and part of that has led to demand from local clusters of farmers that have been quite keen to get together and talk over some of the technical where-tos, to try get some experience and sort of understand the process - what does drought mean, what kind of assistance might be available and what goes with that."

He said so far feedback had been good, with those experienced in farming through tough conditions ready to give their own advice.

"People have enjoyed getting on farm, talking about it - certainly the stalwarts of the area have offered their views on farming through tough times," he said.

And while the planning may continue for a while yet, farmers in the area remain hopeful much-needed rain will come.

"At this stage we're well under half of our normal average annual - wherever you're looking in this area we're a good few hundred millimetres behind."