Lack of rain biting

BROWNED OFF: Karaka market gardener Howe Young is desperate for rain to keep his crops from collapsing.
BROWNED OFF: Karaka market gardener Howe Young is desperate for rain to keep his crops from collapsing.

The green tops of Howe Young's carrots are turning yellow, the roots pushing their shoulders out of the hard soil.

They should have been ready to pull a fortnight ago but My Young is still waiting for them to reach full size.

Pumpkins are "aborting" on the vine and those that do survive are covered in little scabs, remnants of attacks by heat-loving insects.

The relentless dry summer has been great for the onion harvest but not much else, the market gardener says.

Mr Young and his three brothers own fresh produce company Young Wah Chong and lease 150 acres on the edge of the Manukau Harbour.

Other market gardeners in the region are also struggling despite patchy rain in Franklin, says Mr Young, who is also chief executive of the Dominion Federation of New Zealand Chinese Commercial Growers.

Karaka in summer is always dry but rainfall on the property is 60 to 70 per cent below normal.

Auckland Council company Watercare says rainfall in the Hunua Ranges for February so far stood at 27mm on Sunday compared with an average of 109mm.

"We're waiting for the experts to tell us whether we're in a drought or not," Mr Young says.

"Maybe they should ask the farmers. It is a bloody drought."

Windy weather has stripped more moisture from the ground and it probably needs 75mm a week to get soil moisture levels back to normal but that sort of rain isn't forecast until the end of March, Mr Young says.

The last rainfall was 30ml two weeks ago and the market garden's dam is nearly empty. A new bore was drilled last year but with no pump installed yet, the crops are at the mercy of the weather.

Add in the extra spraying to keep bugs at bay and Mr Young estimates the drought has increased costs by 20 per cent this season - and they won't be recouped.

"We'll have lower yields but the extra cost of irrigation puts your production costs right up and you never tend to get that back," he says.

Small, deformed or insect-damaged vegetables don't make it to the shops unless there is a shortage and even then imports might be preferred, he says.

The company exports most of its onions and some cabbages although the high New Zealand dollar is working against growers.

Mr Young says he is "disillusioned" by the industry.

"Growers are not getting what they should be for produce - we're still getting what we got 20 years ago. You can't keep going on like that."

Papakura Courier