Drought status extended again for parched South Island farmers

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has announced much of the South Island will remain under drought classification ...
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has announced much of the South Island will remain under drought classification until the end of June.

A North Canterbury farmer has stressed the need for his peers to look after their mental health, after the Government extended drought status for the South Island on Wednesday.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy announced extra funding of up to $150,000 would go to local Rural Support Trusts, with $40,000 set aside for the North Canterbury trust.

Guy has been a regular visitor to the North Canterbury hotspot, where farmers are struggling with the prolonged drought after culling stock and bringing in extra feed. This is the third time Guy has extended the medium adverse event classification for the drought.

North Canterbury farmers in the clutches of drought have learned of the latest support package.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

North Canterbury farmers in the clutches of drought have learned of the latest support package.

Weka Pass farmer Richard Murchison said the announcement did not make a "huge difference" to his personal situation but the funding boost for the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust was "the big one".

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Drought took a huge mental toll on farmers, he said. 

"It wouldn't be hard to tip over the edge.

"If we hadn't had the support from the Rural Support Trust and things it would not have surprised me to have heard of a couple of suicides.

"The stress levels can get to be enormous — when you've got no feed around, you're buying it in, you've maybe got rid of all your stock and you know that you're going to have to replace that one day.

"You really do get under the hammer," Murchison said.

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"The fact that they [the Government] are continuing to acknowledge the issue is continuing despite the rain that we've had [and] support for the Rural Support Trust is the big one." 

Recent rain had been a "great boost".

"You've got to keep yourself mentally healthy, which means that, at times, you've got to put the farms to one side even if it's only half an hour for a swim."

Mike Satterthwaite, who farms near Rotherham, said the drought was the "worst prolonged dry period I've ever seen".

"The real benefit to us will on tax relief or tax deferral ... That's the only tangible benefit that will come out of it," he said.

Marlborough, Canterbury and parts of Otago were classified as a medium-scale event in February last year. They had received little rainfall for more than a year, Guy said.

"Recent rain has brought some relief and a great morale boost. After more than a year of drought, any rain is welcome, and in some areas it has triggered small amounts of growth. However what these farms really need is good consistent follow-up rain to bring soil moisture levels closer to normal, as it has been dry for so long."

Guy said farmers in the regions were used to drought and had been well prepared to deal with this summer's additional El Niño effect.

He said it was pleasing to see the Hurunui Water Project could now begin planning and building after a High Court ruling last month. It had received about $2 million in Government funding so far.

The official drought period was due to expire on February 15 and was extended to June because of widespread dry conditions.

The extra $150,000 means about $350,000 has gone towards supporting the work of the Rural Support Trusts. Farmers also have access to IRD flexibility for tax payments during the drought.

Rural support trust leaders have been working closely with farmers to monitor their well being and directing them to relief assistance as well as organising community events and one-on-one mentoring. 

Farmers needing more support are being urged to call their local rural support trust on 0800 787 254, and Federated Farmers is operating a drought feedline on 0800 376 844.

"Many rural people can be reluctant to ask for help, but they need to know there is support," said Guy. "As well as Rural Support Trusts, Inland Revenue can offer flexibility with tax obligations and there are options such as Rural Assistance Payments for those facing extreme hardship."

 - Stuff

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