Southern farmers sympathise with drought-stricken

22:43, Apr 03 2014
SYMPATHY: Autumn has been kind to Canterbury farmers as North Island farms crispen to a drought.

North Canterbury farmers seem to have escaped the drought creeping over much of the North Island.

Paddocks have greened up from consistent rain since a cool start to summer in contrast to pastures browning off in the north.

Waikato is officially in a drought and farmland around Auckland and to the north appears to be the worst drought-affected areas in the country, while much of the Manawatu is dry and Taranaki is under a dry spell.

Last year's good spring had allowed farmers to make early reserves of silage and other supplementary feed unlike the 2012-13 summer, but concern was growing as this was being used to maintain stock condition.

North Canterbury farmers who managed to avoid a drought declaration last year and irrigated properties under water restrictdhions and suffering from dry pastures are better placed this season.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury president Lynda Murchison said North Canterbury farmers fully sympathised with the plight of northern farmers as they had been in their position many times.

''I think it reinforces the fact  farming is a seasonal and climatic occupation and we have to work with nature and even people with irrigation still have to work with nature,'' she said.

She said March rain had put North Canterbury in a good space and many paddocks were looking ''nice and green'' at this stage.

''It usually starts to green up around the end of March and beginning of April depending on the autumn rain, but it has arrived earlier in March. 

''This autumn period [is critical] for dryland farmers and for all farmers, but for dryland farmers they are getting their winter feed in now and we want to get the growth going so there is plenty of feed for winter.''

Once soil temperatures fall, grass growth is restricted even on sunny days.

Murchison said winter feed crops sown at their Weka Pass farm in April last year were already in the ground this year.

After a dry autumn the cold spring lifted ground moisture and farmers wound up with a good late spring and a summer staying wet through January and much of February before drying off as expected, she said.

North Canterbury farmers began with fewer lambs this spring from the dry autumn, but these had grown to be good sized.

Dairy farmers struggled initially from centre pivot irrigators turned over by strong winds in the spring, but this had been compensated by reasonable growing conditions and record payout forecasts.

Murchison said farmers were used to drought and farmed accordingly, but it was interesting over the last few years how areas such as the West Coast, Waikato and Northland had become more susceptible to drought.

Farmers needed to think about their vulnerability and work through issues such as climate change, their environmental sustainability and water storage, she said.

Federated Farmers Auckland president Wendy Clark  had gone about three months without any significant rain and Cyclone Lusi gave little or no relief to farmers in the area.

Farmers usually budgeted for about six weeks without rain during the Auckland summer, but they were beginning to compare this year to the drought of 1974, when significant rain did not fall until the end of May.


Fairfax Media