Drought puts heat on farmers' incomes

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 05:00 21/02/2013

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Scorching conditions throughout the wider Manawatu region are hitting farmers financially.

They are feeling the pressure as dry conditions affect pastures.

Lambs are heading from the North Island, including Manawatu, Horowhenua, Tararua, and Rangitikei, to greener pastures in the South Island for fattening.

Farmers are expected to lose thousands of dollars as lighter sheep and cattle are sent to meatworks, and lambs are sent to the South Island for finishing.

Milk production is also down.

Hot weather and dry winds have stripped moisture from soils in many parts of the North Island.

There is no respite on the horizon, with MetService predicting another 10 days without rain throughout the region.

The effect of the dry conditions on farmers was seen in the serious drops in ewe, lamb and cattle prices at Feilding stock sales as the dry conditions bit.

Farmers have had to watch meat prices decline each week.

Feilding farmer Gordon McKellar said large numbers of lambs had gone to the South Island as there was not much lamb feed in the North Island.

He said some farmers had by-passed saleyards and gone directly to South Island buyers.

As well as feed, there was capacity at the meat plants in the South Island because of the high number of dairy conversions.

"While there is a significant cost crossing Cook Strait, it has underpinned the lamb price for hill country farmers [in this region] and eased the delay getting stock into North Island meat plants."

McKellar said the overseas beef price was high, but the local works price for farmers continued to fall, with dry conditions forcing farmers to unload stock.

"That allows meat companies to strengthen their balance sheets after most lost money last year."

Farmers say the drought, to gether with lower sheep and beef returns, will hurt incomes.

Dairy farmers are also feeling the pinch as they cut cow numbers and use feed supplements to cope.

"Things are starting to get really dry," Federated Farmers Manawatu/Rangitikei president Andrew Hoggard said. "I am drying off some more cows this week.

"I have dropped my numbers by about 10 per cent in the last couple of weeks. It is not as bad as it was a couple of years ago, but it is certainly starting to bite now."

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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