Lost autumn likely to add more misery

SEAMUS BOYER
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2013
John Booth
LOREN DOUGAN/Fairfax NZ

'ONE DAY CLOSET TO RAIN': Things are not looking good on John Booth's farm in Gladstone.

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First there was no spring, now it's looking like there might not be an autumn.

Farmers faced with a looming drought crisis are bracing for a tough winter, with poor autumn growth conditions expected to replace the brutal summer.

With half the North Island already in drought, much of the rest is likely to follow officially today.

Some Wairarapa farmers are inching closer to the "catastrophic" scenario of running out of stock drinking water.

Gladstone dairy farmer John Rose, who has been farming for 50 years, said it was "hard to recall [a drought] like this".

"This one is particularly bad because we didn't have a spring, and now we might go straight into winter. The biggest concern is how are we going to winter our cows if we've used up all our supplements and the grass is still brown."

Mr Rose had reduced his herd from 550 to 440 - "the bare minimum" before he started getting rid of capital stock, he said.

Labour leader David Shearer toured Mr Rose's dairy farm yesterday to offer "solidarity" to struggling farmers.

"The farmers are clearly facing a real squeeze," Mr Shearer said.

"Their incomes are not only down now but they will be in the future, because this is going to have an impact throughout the year and beyond."

The effect on the wider rural communities was often not well appreciated by those in the cities. "This is a nationwide problem . . . in the past it's been fairly localised but now, because it's so widespread, you can't bring in feed."

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark said the whole community was suffering, because many businesses serviced the farmers who were themselves struggling.

Young farmers particularly were doing it tough, he said.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president Jamie Falloon said the region was likely to be declared in drought today, after farmers put their case to the Ministry for Primary Industries on Tuesday.

Tararua, Gisborne, Taranaki, Manawatu and Rangitikei are also awaiting official drought declarations, likely to come this morning when the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, makes an announcement at a farm near Cheltenham, in Manawatu.

Northland, South Auckland, Waikato, including Taupo, and Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay have already been declared drought zones.

MetService spokesman Daniel Corbett said a combination of Cyclone Sandra's remains and an approaching trough meant rain was likely in most places by the end of the weekend. But how much rain was still up for debate.

". . . it looks like the heaviest falls will be on the West Coast, with much more modest amounts likely over the North Island.

"The expected rainfall will not be enough to make up the large rainfall deficits in many places, but it will be a good step in the right direction," he said.

The rain was likely to be followed by showers on Monday, with another anticyclonenext week.

'ONE DAY CLOSER TO RAIN'

Things are not looking good on John Booth's farm in Gladstone, Wairarapa, but he's trying to stay philosophical.

"That's farming, isn't it, you can only do what you can do," he said. "You just have to tough it out, and remember that every day that goes by is one closer to rain."

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The sixth-generation farmer, who is also a Carterton district councillor, said he was lucky he still had limited irrigation.

But others were getting low on drinking water for stock. "Some of the hill country farmers around here are really struggling for water . . .If you run out of water, that's catastrophic."

Conditions were "heading to be worse" than the drought of 2007-08, he said.

Some rain was predicted for Sunday, but it was unlikely to be enough. "We'd need 50 millilitres over a week just to get things up and growing."

- The Dominion Post

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