Drought declared for larges swathes of South Island video

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy declares the drought official at Lake Opuha on Thursday.

Drought has been declared for all of Canterbury, Central and North Otago, and Marlborough, by Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy.

The Wairarapa region is on watch.

Guy, who chose the Opuha Dam, 13 kilometres north of the South Canterbury town of Fairlie, as the backdrop for his announcement, said the drought is a medium-scale event.

Lake levels at the Opuha Dam have dropped to 12 per cent, nearing the critical 10 per cent mark.
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ

Lake levels at the Opuha Dam have dropped to 12 per cent, nearing the critical 10 per cent mark.

Canterbury is on track for the lowest January rainfall in 43 years. However, farmers were "by and large" coping, he said.

The dam, operated by Opuha Water Limited, risks running out of water for the first time since it was built in 1998.

The declaration means up to $200,000 will be made available for rural support trusts, which provide people in rural areas with anonymous counselling and advice.

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Rural Assistance Payments (RAPs) would be made available in the next few months from Work and Income.

"They are equivalent to the Jobseeker Support benefit and are available to those in extreme hardship. It's important to note that support is already available from Government agencies in all regions."

Guy said farmers should contact IRD if they needed help or flexibility with making tax payments.

Drought in the South Island.

Drought in the South Island.

Standard hardship assistance was also available from Work and Income.

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Prime Minister John Key said today declaring a drought meant affected farmers could access financial support from IRD akin to the unemployment benefit. 

"In the end it's not huge financial support but there is some contribution that's made there if and when required."

Expert official advice was that "now is the appropriate time" to declare a drought. 

"We've got to the point where clearly everyone is comfortable that drought should be declared in Canterbury, Marlborough and, I think, Otago," Key said. 

"There's certainly some farmers who are looking at the weather forecast and have got very dry conditions. No question it will be having some impact some on our output from the agricultural sector."

"Our farmers are immensely resiliant ... they are very good at hunkering down ... but we need to give them the support we can."

However, today's declaration is a case of too little too late, New Zealand First says.

"New Zealand First has twice called on the Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy to take action," Primary Industries Spokesman Richard Prosser said.

"Many farmers were desperate a month ago. The Minister doesn't understand that a drought is like a block of cheese - the longer you leave it out in the sun, the worse it gets. It's not rocket science."

"It's not just a case of there being no rain. It's the fact that soil moisture levels are down from a long period of not enough rain," he said.

"And here's the Minister ambling in like slow-walking Jones, a month after the horse has bolted. The damage is already done and the delay could have been avoided. We told the Minister our farmers needed government support back in January."

Guy said MPI had a process to follow before he could declare a drought.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean says she believes the drought declaration will have a "big impact' on Otago's farmers. 

In a statement, Dean said she believed the announcement would boost Otago farmers' morale.

DROUGHT FACTS

Regions include: 

● Central Otago

● North Otago

● Canterbury

● Marlborough

Farms affected

● 1400 commercial dairy farms

● 4400 commercial beef and lamb farms

Government assistance available

● Up to $120,000 for Rural Support Trusts

● Rural Assistance Payments for farmers unable to meet essential living costs

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

 - The Timaru Herald

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