The third successive dry year has forced the Hawkes Bay Drought Committee to ask for the region to be declared a drought area.
Committee chair Lawrence Yule said:
“An autumn drought is worse than a spring drought. At the moment there’s lower levels of grass growing around which you need to carry stock through the winter,’ he said.
“This is Central Hawke’s Bay’s third drought in a row, farmers’ morale is very low, many haven’t been able to generate the income to service their stock.’
Mr Yule said there was also a major cricket problem in CHB as the insects were attracted to the district’s clay soils.
“There are areas that have been eaten by crickets, hundreds of them are getting into houses and there are whole hills which have been eaten out by crickets,’ he said.
After visitng Gisborne which was declared a drought area last week, Agriculture Minister David Carter said that winter drought is harder to explain to non-farmers:
. . . these farmers are going into their third year of drought; with soil temperatures dropping, rain is too late for grass growth. The positives, in contrast to last year, are the price of store stock is up, the price of supplementary feed is down, and the region’s farmers do not have to compete for feed with other drought stricken areas.
The North Island’s East Coast seems to be the only area in New Zealand that hasn’t enjoyed a reasonable autumn. I have done a fair bit of travelling over the past month and farmers up and down the country are generally very positive, despite the global economic situation.
Improved prices for stock and less competition for suplementary food will make things a little less difficult this season, as will lower interest rates and a fall in the price of fertiliser. But some farmers won’t be able to afford fertilister at any price and the other points are very small slivers of silver in the cloud of drought hanging over the province.
We were in Hawkes Bay in spring 2007 and autumn last year and the impact of dry weather was evident then. We’ve got used to irrigation providing some insurance against dry weather in North Otago and Canterbury but all the farms we visited in the North Island were totally reliant on rain.
North Otago had a dry summer but February’s rain set us up for autumn. We haven’t had any significant falls since then so although it’s getting a bit late for much growth before winter sets in, enough rain to get soil moisture levels up for spring growth would be very welcome.
A couple of good showers would be enough for us, but the North Island’s East Coast needs sustained rain to break the drought. Until that happens making the drought official will trigger government measures such as tax relief and funding for management advice and Rural Support Trusts.