Storm OK 'as long as there is water'

HARRY PEARL AND ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 06:29 13/03/2014
drought farmer
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
INGERS CROSSED: Tauhei dairy farmer Blair Jackson needs his paddocks saturated with water but too much rain too soon will be of little benefit.

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Long-awaited rain is coming to the drought-parched Waikato within days but it will arrive with a sting in its tail as the region is hit with powerful winds from the cyclone bearing down on the country.

Tropical Cyclone Lusi is expected to make landfall on Saturday, after cutting a deadly path through the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management John Hamilton expected a "dangerous storm" to arrive this weekend.

Metservice issued a severe weather watch with heavy rain expected in Northland, Auckland and Coromandel Peninsula and latest computer models expected Lusi to arrive over northern New Zealand on Saturday or early Sunday.

Farmers and horticulturists have so far refrained from calling on the Ministry for Primary Industries to declare a drought in the region and qualify for financial benefits.

The Minister for Primary Industries minister, Nathan Guy, is in the Waikato today, to inspect the current drought-like conditions the region's farmers face.

Mr Guy plans to visit dairy farmer Peter Buckley's farm near Te Kauwhata this morning, along with Federated Farmers and members of the Rural Support Trust.

Eureka vegetable and rose grower Mike Roach said he would take whatever rain he could get.

"I don't think anyone in the industry - horticulture, farming, whatever - will care a damn what comes with it as long as there is water," he said.

Waikato has had one of its driest Februarys on record and in some areas soil moisture deficits may be as severe as the 2013 drought, Niwa's February climate summary said.

The predicted rain would be "miles too late" for Tauhei dairy farmer Blair Jackson, who was up to 90 per cent supplementary feed for his 160 cows, but his fingers were crossed for a dose of rain.

"We needed stuff in December to get us through to summer. It will set us up a little bit better coming into winter."

Talk at the farm gate has farmers predicting 150mm of rain throughout the storm but Mr Jackson hoped it would come over a few days rather than one big hit.

"A 150mm in 12 hours is no good, it's all just going to run off. It's not going to have time to soak in."

Gordonton farmer Wayne Reynolds said the rain would transform his farm and have a dramatic effect on this season's profitability.

Waikato Federated Farmers president James Houghton, speaking at a board meeting in Hamilton on Tuesday, said he believed the region was experiencing a drought, even though one had not been officially declared.

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"It hasn't been declared because of the implications associated with the declaration," Mr Houghton said at a regional executive board meeting in Hamilton on Tuesday.

If a drought was declared, assistance packages would be available. But Mr Houghton said there could be a perception that farmers "had their hand out" when payouts were up for dairy and store prices reasonably good for drystock.

Morrinsville farmer Lloyd Downing said he was hoping for about 100mm of rain over the next week. "If we don't get any rain out of this weekend and it stays dry to the middle of April, that's going to be pretty serious. Farmers are businessman. We need to farm for a drought, farm for for floods and we need to farm for adverse conditions - that's part of our occupation."

Mr Houghton said the rain forecast for later this week would be great news, but he would not be celebrating until he sees it hitting the soil.

Too often forecasted storms have missed the Waikato because the easterly winds that accompany the weather push the rain to the east and into the Bay of Plenty, he said.

MetService Meteorologist Daniel Corbett said the past month had been very dry for Waikato, but tropical cyclone Lusi might "answer some prayers".

"Probably on its leading edge it will have good moisture and very, very strong easterly winds, which will come down Northland, eastern parts of Auckland, Coromandel and Bay of Plenty."

The brunt of the system would most likely hit early on Saturday then sweep over Waikato, Mr Corbett said.

The cyclone is near Vanuatu.Once it hit New Zealand, flooding and damaging winds could not be ruled out.

"If it does linger, there's certainly risk of flooding.

"Some of it will run-off, but it can exacerbate local flooding if it's hard ground."

The 10-day forecast predicts six days of rain and showers from Saturday.

Waikato Civil Defence officers met to plan for Lusi's arrival but group controller Lee Hazlewood said the organisation was prepared to respond if Lusi leads to problems.

"Civil defence personnel in other parts of the region are also monitoring developments closely."

Fire brigades around the Waikato remained on alert for Lusi and Waikato district fire commander Roy Breeze said extra resources would be called upon if needed.

- Waikato Times

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