Concern mounts for farmers, rural communities as dry winter looms

Rainfall is forecast to be below-normal between May and July for most of the country.
Rainfall is forecast to be below-normal between May and July for most of the country. Photo credit: Getty Images

There are concerns for farmers and those living in rural communities as a dry winter looms for many parts of the country.

According to NIWA's seasonal climate outlook, rainfall is forecast to be below-normal between May and July for all regions of New Zealand apart from the north of the North Island. 

Temperatures are "very unlikely to be colder than average for the three months as whole", with above average or near average temperatures forecast for all regions apart from the east of the South Island, where above average temperatures are most likely.

With farmers in many parts of the country - particularly down the eastern coast of both islands - already facing dry conditions, the outlook has raised concern for the sector.

Dr Nick Cradock-Henry, senior scientist at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, said those living and working outside of cities were set to feel the brunt of the warmer weather more than their urban counterparts.

"The prospect of higher-than-average temperatures and lower rainfall than normal, for parts of the South Island, highlight again, the climate-related challenges for primary industries and rural communities," Dr Cradock-Henry said on Wednesday.

"Farms are often set up to cope with one, or even two, difficult years. Repeated, or prolonged dry conditions, however, exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, placing undue pressure on household finances, personal relationships, livestock, and other aspects of the production system."

He said the effects of such tough conditions have "inter-seasonal implications".

"When the fundamental social, economic, and environmental capitals on which these communities depend becomes slowly eroded through successive or prolonged dry conditions, recovery can be difficult."

Bill Kaye-Blake, principal economist at the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, said not all people would be affected in the same way by the tough conditions.

"Rural communities are resilient in different ways. Some rely on strong social networks, some can draw on a richer economic base," he said.

"The biggest challenges are for people who are a bit more isolated. For example, people on lifestyle blocks may have a few animals but may not be well connected in the farming community. They can struggle to find supplemental feed for their animals."

Last week the Government announced an extra $900,000 in funding to help support farmers through the ongoing dry conditions.

The funding will be used to ensure feed support services can continue and extra wellbeing assistance is available to more farmers.

In announcing the support, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the current large-scale event classification had been expanded to include Mid-Canterbury, South Canterbury and Otago.

Support for the Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Wellington and Tasman regions, and the Manawatū-Rangitīkei, Tararua and Nelson areas would remain in place until the end of June when it would be reviewed, he said.