Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy declared this year’s drought officially over yesterday.
“Earlier this year I extended the official drought declaration covering the entire North Island and West Coast of the South Island until the end of September. This was in recognition that the drought was the worst in 70 years and the need for support would continue through the winter.
“Fortunately we have had an excellent winter with warm temperatures and decent rainfall. This has meant very good growing conditions for most farmers across the country.
“This shows the resilience of rural communities who have come through earthquakes, snow storms, and drought over the last few years. With every challenge farmers have rebounded and come back even stronger.”
A total of 146 applications for Rural Assistance Payments have been granted this year with $814,277.32 in assistance paid. These are paid at an equivalent rate to the unemployment benefit and were available to those in extreme hardship.
“This shows that farmers are not interested in handouts unless absolutely necessary. What’s more important to them is knowing the Government has acknowledged their situation and is providing back-up support.
$320,000 in funding has also been made available to Rural Support Trusts who have worked closely with farmers, providing support and guidance.
“I want to thank everyone who banded together to help rural communities in their time of need, including the Ministry for Primary Industries, Work and Income, Rural Support Trusts, IRD, Federated Farmers, Rural Women, the NZ Veterinary Association, Beef + Lamb NZ, Dairy NZ and many banks who offered special packages.
This year’s drought was extensive and, as is always the case, it impacted not just on farmers and those who supply and service them but on the wider economy.
The country had a mild winter and good spring growth is widespread.
But sooner or later there will be another drought and we must prepare for it.
“The drought has also shown the importance of irrigation and water storage. We don’t have a shortage of rainfall in this country, we just don’t have enough capacity to store and use that water in dry times.
“We currently store less than two percent of the water that lands on New Zealand. This is why the Government is investing $80 million this year into Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd to act as a bridging investor for irrigation projects. In total, the Government has signalled plans to invest up to $400 million in regional-scale schemes.
“Done properly, regional projects can allocate water to benefit both the economy and environment, and help us through future dry spells,” says Mr Guy.
Federated farmers climate change spokesman Dr William Rolleston says the logic for water storage is irrefutable with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicting New Zealand could face a future climate of heavier extreme rainfall, stronger and more extreme winter winds as well as longer periods of drought.
“There are three basics to growing pasture and crops and they are soils, sunlight and water. While many countries have the first two, it is water, or the lack of it, which limits food production in a world where the supply and demand for food sits on a knife edge.
“Aside from being a net food exporter in a world of increasing food shortage, New Zealanders can be very proud that our farmers are among the most carbon efficient in the world. This extends to our country’s role in the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases and the Palmerston North based Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium.
“This efficiency saw the Daily Mail last year write, “Buy New Zealand lamb to save the planet.” In May, the UK’s Observer on Sunday ran a feature entitled, “Why worrying about food miles is missing the point.” In it, our carbon efficiency was lauded.
“Victoria University of Wellington’s Dr James Renwick, who is an IPCC lead chapter author, said on One News, “We’ll see more high temperature extremes, so higher frequency of hot days and less cold days”.
“Newspapers are reporting that New Zealand can expect a climate on average 0.9 Celsius warmer by 2040 and 2.1 Celsius warmer by 2090.
“We have two options for adaption. First is researching new crops and pasture varietals in the knowledge that farms will face greater environmental stress. This demands an on-going and bipartisan ramp up in both our agricultural research and development spend and science capability.
“The second of course is the huge opportunity we have to store rain water.
“South Canterbury’s Opuha dam, the most recent dedicated water storage facility which started operating in the late 1990’s, has proven itself by insulating South Canterbury from drought.
“It is schemes like Opuha, such as Ruataniwha now being proposed in the Hawke’s Bay, which New Zealand needs to build resilience into our economy and society.
“The constant for water remains irrespective of what current land uses are or what they could be in the future. As we saw on the West Coast when it suffered a rare drought, sections of rivers do dry up. The IPCC report indicates that as temperatures increase and weather patterns change, such outcomes may become a more regular occurrence.
“Stored rain water provides the means to maintain minimum flows. Water storage is as much environmental infrastructure as it is economic. Every region should be looking at storing rain water and many currently are. This report should hasten that work.
“While I do not know a lot about trout fishing what I do know is this; trout live in water and not in dry river beds.
“If water storage is being opposed for purely political grounds, then those same people who talk about the need to respond to a changing climate need to recheck their logic,” Dr Rolleston concluded.
We began harvesting water nearly 30 years ago, pumping water from underground into a pond over winter and using it in summer.
We still do it although most of our water now comes from the North Otago Irrigation Company scheme which, with others in the area, has made a significant improvement to the District in economic, social and environmental terms.
Farms are more profitable; they employ more people directly and contribute to more jobs in businesses which service and supply agriculture. The average age on farms has plummeted, rural communities have been revived, soils don’t blow away and water flow is maintained in creeks through droughts.
Even those on dry land benefit because they have choices including selling their stock to or buying feed or grazing from those with irrigated properties.
There is potential for more irrigation – with and without storage – in many areas where it could make a positive difference locally and nationally.