Let it rain


North Otago didn’t have much of a spring and while we didn’t enjoy the cold, wet start to summer it did provide good soil moisture levels.

We could do with some rain now but it’s not desperate.

The summer hasn’t been nearly as kind to farmers further north.

Three weeks ago a Northland dairy farmer told me he was down to once a day milking and would soon have to dry off his herd.

There’s been no rain since then and yesterday Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy declared a drought in the region and said other regions are likely to follow:

“This is recognition that we are now beyond what is a normal dry summer, and into an extreme climatic event. The entire North Island is extremely dry, but Northland is one of the worst-hit areas.

“The declaration of a medium-scale event means that extra Government funding will now be available to coordinate support through local organisations like the Rural Support Trusts. In extreme cases there will also be Rural Assistance Payments (RAPs) available to farmers in severe hardship.

“This drought decision has been made after receiving advice from the Ministry for Primary Industries, including soil moisture data from NIWA, and in consultation with the local community. It applies to the area north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

“We are closely watching other parts of the North Island which are extremely dry, in particular the Waikato and Hawkes Bay.

“Support is also available from Government agencies in all regions, even without a drought declaration. Farmers should contact IRD if they need help or flexibility with making tax payments, and standard assistance is available from the Ministry of Social Development.

“Farmers have been taking practical steps to deal with the dry, such as destocking and switching to once a day milking. It’s important to plan ahead and to ask for help when needed.

“Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers, DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries are all working to help farmers get through this tough period,” says Mr Guy.

Federated Farmers believes Northland will be followed by other regions in fairly quick succession.

“Practically speaking an adverse event declaration like this is not about handouts,” says Matt Long, Federated Farmers Northland provincial president.

“What it means is that organisations like the Rural Support Trust Northland can now coordinate and deliver farm advisory and counselling services. As this is a highly stressful time for farmers and their families, access to counselling services is invaluable.

“Another thing the declaration triggers is flexibility from Inland Revenue. It is not about being excused obligations but the ability to set up individual plans with it; plans that need to be organised through a farmer’s agent or accountant.

 “While there are benefits called Rural Assistance Payments or RAP’s I have to be brutally honest and say that very few farmers will qualify. These are for absolute hardship and the last time there was drought here less than 16 farmers out of several thousand received them.

“I would say that support from the likes of MSD and Inland Revenue might also be good for farm workers and their families as the financial effects of drought cascades through our communities.

“Federated Farmers will of course activate our 0800 DROUGHT (0800 376 844) feed line. We will also be developing formal and informal initiatives for farmers, their staff and their families.

“We further recommend that farmers speak to their bank’s rural manager. This declaration confirms how bad things are and by keeping your bank fully informed they will work with you.

“What I want farmers to know is that they are not alone,” Mr Long concluded.

Droughts are physically, financially and psychologically challenging.

They’re a bit like a chronic illness .

The only cure is rain but the official declaration  does trigger help to alleviate some of the symptoms.


Adverse assistance payment boost


Rural assistance payments for farming families facing hardship have been boosted from 75% to 100% of the unemployment benefit.

This is income assitance which is available to farmers who are struggling financially because of an adverse event such as drought or flood.

I’ve no intention of counting this gift hourse’s teeth nor down playing the physical, pschological and financial impact of the adverse events which could trigger the payments.

But I do have a tiny wee suspicion that the timing of this announcement by Jim Anderton who apparently is the Minister of Agriculture, has something to with the proximity of the election.

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