A Colyton farmer says the drought is the worst he has seen in his 16 years on the land.
Paul Browne said paddocks were dust and dirt after grass burnt off, and he was feeding hay and grain to stock to keep it going.
"We are doing washing for neighbours and people are having showers here as they run short of water," Browne said.
Browne said he and two neighbouring farms relied on his bore for stock water, and the first thing they did each morning was check there was enough water in troughs for the animals.
"In all the time we've been here, this is the worst dry period. Even the vegetables in the garden are wilting."
Browne said he had to dig a three-metre hole to bury a dead horse, and the ground was "powdery dry" right down to the bottom.
Many farmers are having to cope as dams dry out, leaving them short of stock water, and some are trucking in water each day to fill troughs.
Yesterday's declaration of a North Island-wide drought by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy will mean emotional support for stressed farmers rather than financial handouts, Federated Farmers said.
Beef + Lamb regional manager Mel Poulton said she was most concerned about the struggling hill-country farmers in the Taihape and Taumarunui region.
"There are some localised frosts already, and [farmers'] ability to build winter feed for stock is compromised."
She said that meant the impact of the drought would be felt for the next two to three years as farmers culled their breeding stock, and lambing and calving percentages dipped.
Dame Margaret Millard, who heads the Rural Family Support Trust, said the trust was often criticised when farmers received subsidies during a drought, but that wasn't the case this time.
Dame Margaret encouraged people to keep an eye on their rural neighbours and talk to them.
"[The drought declaration] doesn't change the situation. You still have the same challenges when you go home. But you can talk to your neighbour and maybe joke about it. You can share what you're doing and they're doing and it lightens the load a bit."
Farmers said they would like rain to come slowly, as drizzle, rather than a hard fall, which might wash off parched hill country. They said 20 millimetres as gentle rain, followed up by heavier rain later in the week, would be ideal.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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