Drought’s official

This summer has been like those I remember as a child with day after day of hot, sunny weather.

Those were summers when we were plagued by drought just like this one, which is now official:

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has today officially declared the drought conditions on the east coast of the South Island as being a medium-scale adverse event.

“This is recognition of the extreme dry conditions farmers and growers are facing, and triggers additional Government support,” says Mr Guy.

The areas affected cover parts of Otago, Canterbury and the Marlborough District.

“The Ministry for Primary Industries has been monitoring the conditions very closely over recent months. Most farmers have coped so far by destocking and using feed supplies, and most will not need extra support. However it’s clear that conditions are only going to get tougher as the seasons change and we need to prepare now.

This week local groups, including Rural Support Trusts and Federated Farmers, have acknowledged the need of medium scale recovery measures to deal with the consequence of the drought.

“Extra Government funding will now be available to Rural Support Trusts who work closely with farmers, providing support and guidance.

“Rural Assistance Payments (RAPs) will also be made available in the next few months. These will be available from Work and Income, through the Ministry of Social Development. They are equivalent to the Jobseeker Support benefit and are available to those in extreme hardship.

“It’s important to note that support is already available from Government agencies in all regions. Farmers should contact IRD if they need help or flexibility with making tax payments, and standard hardship assistance is available from Work and Income.

“Federated Farmers have started their feedline to coordinate supplies, and it’s pleasing to see some banks offering special packages.”

Mr Guy made the announcement today at Opuha Dam in South Canterbury which will run dry in the next few weeks without decent rainfall.

“Many rural people can be reluctant to ask for help, but it is important for them to know that support is available.”

Mr Guy says the Government is also keeping a very close eye on Wairarapa and southern Hawkes Bay which are also suffering from very dry conditions.

What are the criteria for declaring a medium scale adverse event?

  • There are three levels of ‘adverse events’ – localised, medium and national. These can cover events like drought, floods, fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
  • The criteria for assessing the scale of an adverse event are:
    • Options available for the community to prepare for and recover from the event;  
    • Magnitude of the event (likelihood and scale of physical impact), and;
    • Capacity of the community to cope economically and socially impact.

Stuart Smith MP's photo.

Stuart Smith MP's photo.


The declaration reinforces the case for more water storage:

Today’s official declaration that the drought conditions on the east coast of the South Island are a medium-scale adverse event strengthens the argument for further national investment in regional water storage, says IrrigationNZ.

“The only way to prevent communities suffering drought in dry summers is through storing alpine water. We do not need to wait for rivers to run dry, for fish to die and for communities to panic. New Zealand has plentiful supply which flows out to sea; we just need to get better at banking water and getting it to the needy places,” says Andrew Curtis, IrrigationNZ CEO.

“The official declaration of drought shows that extended dry weather has a significant impact in New Zealand despite its high levels of rainfall. It means that farmers and communities need help.

“We need to make 2015 the year New Zealand finally learns from drought and gets on with building regional-scale water storage to prevent local distress. There are several projects in the pipeline around the country but they need significant community, business and government support to proceed. This South Canterbury drought will cost New Zealanders millions. It’s time we bit the bullet and had a national conversation around how we manage drought,” says Mr Curtis.

“Water storage and irrigation will allow New Zealand to survive climatic variations like extended dry spells which scientists tell us are on the increase, particularly for those of us living in eastern New Zealand. Drought takes away not only income from farmers; it strips whole communities of water for everything from boating to gardening, tourism businesses that rely on healthy river flows to fish struggling to survive in parched streams. Water storage is not just about propping up irrigation; it supplements all of these community values”, says Mr Curtis.



We’re insulated from the worst affects of drought at home thanks to North Otago Irrigation Company’s scheme, fed from the Waitaki River, which is 99% reliable.

But many dairy farmers rely on dryland farms for winter feed and grazing, both of which will be in tight supply.

Irrigation schemes in other areas are restricting takes and some have had to stop all irrigation.

Dairy farms relying on irrigation have reduced milking and many will have to dry-off cows soon,  more than three months early.

The economic impact of the drought will hit the small businesses which service and supply farms too.

There’s now sufficient, reliable irrigation in North Otago to keep grass and crops growing on many farms and reduce the downstream impact on the local community.

More water storage would give other areas that protection too.

25 Responses to Drought’s official

  1. More pimping for water-storage.
    No mention of AGW.
    “Extra Government money going in – that’s welfare and we hate that here on Homepaddock, don’t we?

    Vto says:

    “Its not a true drought though is it – it is a poor-farming-model drought.

    If the east coast gets say 100 units of rain per year and the farming model needs 200 units of water per year then … ummmm ………

    where is the commonsense in all of this?”



  2. “..strengthens the argument for further national investment in regional water storage, says IrrigationNZ.”

    Fox. Henhouse.


  3. Willdwan says:

    That isn’t it at all Robert, you really don’t have a clue. The problem is the rain does not arrive consistently, too much in the wet part of the season, not enough in the dry. No amount of tax and regulation will alter that.


  4. Andrei says:

    Irrigation schemes, Robert my dear fellow, were one of the first steps mankind made that lifted us up from desperate conditions our forebears endured into the marvellous world we inhabit today, for all its many failings

    Of course such projects back in those days required armies of slaves labouring from dawn to dusk overseen by men with whips who were only slightly higher on the feeding chain than those they held in bondage.

    We have improved since then, but do you think the beginnings of the initiative to rid the world of slavery (a task far from accomplished even in the 21st century) and the rise of the use of fossil fuels you so decry coincided a coincidence?

    In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.


  5. Mr E says:

    My understanding is:

    Droughts happen on the east coast, and in rare situations they are extreme leading to “adverse” conditions. In this situation it is spread across regions.

    The Government funding activates the Rural Support Trust, who are tasked with caring and wellbeing of individuals under extreme hardship. In particular the mental well being is supported and for a minority, assessment for the Rural Assistance Payment, affectively money to put food on the table.

    But the main behaviour will be mobilising communities to check on each other, and to care for those in trouble.

    I think the response is a great initiative, farmers are at the mercy of the weather, and there are times when the weather can hurt hard.

    History is littered with these extreme events, and history is littered with the stories of hardship, and loss of farmers who go through them. I think the centralised mobilisation of communities is wise, and will be welcome by those, staring hardship in the face.


  6. Tax and regulation? What?
    And I believe I do get it, Will. Match your industry to your conditions. Don’t create costly infrastructure to support inappropriate industry. Respect nature, don’t force your desires onto her – she’ll have the final say.


  7. Irrigation schemes, Andrei my dear fellow, brought down many a thriving civilisation, or at least the energy required to maintain them did. There are wiser ways to manage food production than irrigate-and-plunk-whatever-crop/stock-you-desire onto the land.


  8. Mr E thinks “the response is a great initiative”, as do I. Farmers, like everyone else, are at the mercy of the weather. Knowing that the weather is going to change in response to AGW should see farmers (and everyone else) modifying their behaviours/investments to match the changing conditions. The most significant action, of course, would be to halt or at least slowdown, the causes of AGW. Building protections into a system that is contributing to the adverse condition is short-sighted, in my view, especially where that worsens the underlying issue.


  9. farmerbraun says:

    Robert, the climate is not under the control of some farmers on the East Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.


  10. farmerbraun says:

    “changing conditions”
    Right adjusting to which, at all times, is the signature of successful farmers.
    Let’s see now; we have in ascending order of time-frame:-

    2. day/night
    4. El Niño/ La Niña
    5. PDO ~ 60 year cycle
    7. longer climate cycles (de Vries etc.)
    All known, all happening right now, and except for 4. , largely predictable.

    You were saying?


  11. “Robert, the climate is not under the control of some farmers on the East Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.”

    That’s right, farmerbraun and a voter can’t decide who the Government will be so no one should vote. No farmer on his own can improve the soil conditions of the whole planet, so none should farm organically. Asm I getting your meaning?


  12. “adjusting to conditions” = changing behaviours.

    Are farmers changing their behaviour with regard contributing to the greenhouse gas load and AGM?
    If not, why not?


  13. Mr E says:

    “Knowing that the weather is going to change in response to AGW should see farmers (and everyone else) modifying their behaviours/investments to match the changing conditions”

    Farmers have modified behaviours for centuries to suit the environment. Fear not.

    “Building protections into a system that is contributing to the adverse condition is short-sighted”

    You are in disagreement with the latest IPCC report then, and growing support for adaptation rather than mitigation?


  14. TraceyS says:

    “No farmer on his own can improve the soil conditions of the whole planet, so none should farm organically.”

    The real question is whether they should be compelled to. For many properties, organic farming would do nothing but improve the soil conditions for gorse to grow in.


  15. Compeeld to! Bristling with outrage and righteousness there, farmer Trace! What nonsense!
    Sadly, I have to go out, otherwise I’d stay and dispel your myths and mis-beliefs. I will be back though, tomorrow. Or earlier 🙂


  16. TraceyS says:

    “Building protections into a system that is contributing to the adverse condition is short-sighted…”

    I think we all get that you want the entire system to change Robert. Yet you’ve never actually described, other than using really big radishes in place of ploughs, and mulch to drought-proof soils, exactly what the alternative proposal is.

    Given your criticisms of conventional systems it can be deducted that your ideas are very different. How do you move people from where they are now? Insulting their intelligence appears to be one method unlikely to get much traction.


  17. TraceyS – I’m in the middle of staging a concert (Beyondsemble -https://www.facebook.com/Beyondsemble) and don’t have much time to learn ya how to farm, but have a gander at this in the meantime:

    (Posted on The Standard this morning)

    weka 6
    13 February 2015 at 9:57 am
    The issue isn’t lack of rainfall, it’s how the land is being farmed. If you want to farm in a very hot dry place then you have to adapt your practices to fit in with and take their cues from the local climate and soil, not adapt farming practices that were developed in rainy, cloudy England.

    The crucial issue is not so much how water falls on the land, but what happens to it once it does. In NZ, conventional farming uses practices that dry out the land. Instead we could be using practices that keep the water moving within the landscape instead of evaporating or running off. These practices are all used in drier climates than NZ. They can be used small scale or large scale, rural and urban.

    Here are a couple of examples,

    Swale animation, showing how water harvesting ditches on contour rehydrate the landscape and in some cases re-establish springs (1min38) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFeylOa_S4c

    Swale and hugelkultur, how to harvest water passively, and how to use buried carbon mass to hold water in the land (7mins) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ima_ff5xVH4

    The classic Greening the Desert slide show (5 mins), showing establishment of food production in the first year in Jordan which has the driest climate per head of population in the world, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sohI6vnWZmk

    John Liu’s documentary of restoring landscapes that are in the process of becoming deserts (this applies to much of the east of the South Island). 47 mins, but worth the watch for anyone that wants to understand what makes land sustainable. It also demonstrates how restoring land brings benefits to the people who live there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBLZmwlPa8A


  18. Robert Guyton says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    February 13, 2015 at 4:01 pm
    0 0 Rate This

    TraceyS – I’m in the middle of staging a concert (Beyondsemble -https://www.facebook.com/Beyondsemble) and don’t have much time to learn ya how to farm, but have a gander at this in the meantime:

    Ha! Moderation again!! Being a sensible fellow I realised that the links in my first attempt have caused the moderation to be invoked – I know Ele wouldn’t try that underhand trick on me again 🙂 You’ll have to wait, TraceyS, til Ele releases the original.


  19. Moderation??? Wtf – must be a sorry mistake by the robot.


  20. Two comments for you, TraceyS, held in moderation for now…


  21. homepaddock says:

    Robert any comment with four or more links automatically goes into moderation because that’s often a sign of spam.


  22. TraceyS says:

    Robert, two things leap out after watching your links. One is that on a large scale, in New Zealand, these initiatives would require earthworks and, therefore, consumption of additional fossil fuel. The other is that on scale, these schemes generate a major alteration of the natural landscape. That, along with the RMA definition of a waterway encapsulating basically any dry gully that might ever run water, would almost certainly trigger the need for multiple resource consents. That process is a major deterrent for many farmers (due to cost and uncertainty). The higher the cost and uncertainty, the greater the prospect of commercial return needs to be. I have put it to you before, and will do so again, should there be some sort of concession or alternative path for projects which have positive environmental consequences? My view is that we need a much “friendlier” system in New Zealand which encourages innovation and thinking outside the box rather than punishing it or making the process of obtaining permission needlessly complicated.


  23. Thanks, Ele. It’s as I suspected.
    TraceyS – those were just something to distract you while I was busy. I don’t recommend them. I’ll get back to you with my practical ideas soon. For now, I’m erecting sculptures in the estuary as part of the “Between the Tides” exhibition.


  24. TraceyS says:

    Robert “…don’t have much time to learn ya how to farm, but have a gander at this in the meantime…” “Here are a couple of examples…”

    I did look at your examples of “how to farm”. Then you say you don’t recommend these ideas?

    You need not bother posting your “excellent practical ideas”. I’m not going to play a silly game of cat and mouse with you.


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