North Canterbury farmers want drought status extended

Conditions looked like this in April this year and little rain has fallen since.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Conditions looked like this in April this year and little rain has fallen since.

Primary Industries minister Nathan Guy says the Government will review North Canterbury's drought status and might extend it.

He said he would be looking at the issue in late January.

The region was the hardest hit last season and this summer is shaping up to be extremely dry with the El Nino climate system already making an impact.

Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley said the Hurunui drought committee had sent a letter to the Ministry for Primary Industries seeking that the medium-scale declaration be carried through until June next year. It was first declared in February.

He said the numbers of farmers who had taken advantage of financial assistance available was "in the tens, not hundreds".

That was because most had culled stock early and so their cash flows had not been hit.

"But this season there will be a serious deficit, and that is when they will need the rural assistance package," Dalley said.

Support had come from around the country, with offers of feed and to take livestock temporarily.

Guy said farmers were facing difficult circumstances.

"We are doing everything possible with more money through the rural support trust, we've got rural assistance payments which are still going, and there is some taxation flexibility through Inland Revenue," Guy said.

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He welcomed the green light the Hurunui water storage project received from the courts last week.

Dalley said the area hardest hit by drought now would receive irrigation from the proposed project.

The recent decision meant the proponents could go ahead with feasibility studies. Finances still had to be worked through.

Rural Support Trust chairman Doug Archbold said he had farmed in the region for 40 years, and the "drought on drought" was a once in a lifetime event. 

Few had taken advantage of financial assistance because "farmers have got a lot of pride and they don't like to see themselves as social welfare beneficiaries".

He predicted the pressure would come on in February when farmers worked through their budgets and found a big hole in them.

Meanwhile the community had rallied around. This weekend affected farmers and families were being treated to a reduced-cost outing to Hanmer hot pools, Archbold said.

 - Stuff

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