Farmers say dry spell now a drought

SEAMUS BOYER - WAIRARAPA
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2013

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Extreme dry conditions along the east coast of the North Island mean a drought may soon be declared - with some farmers saying they are already in the thick of it.

Yesterday Niwa declared conditions of "extreme soil moisture deficit" in Wairarapa, Hawke's Bay and Gisborne, with February rainfall just a quarter of what it normally is for those regions. The rest of the North Island is also suffering from "significant to extreme" dry conditions.

Northland was the hardest hit region and officially declared to be in drought yesterday. Federated Farmers Northland president Matt Long said the declaration was welcome news. "It opens up a lot of avenues for farmers."

Forecasters predict more hot, dry weather for the next few weeks.

A Masterton farmer feeling the heat, Neil Smith, said nothing was growing on his farm, and all cattle were now on supplementary food.

"I would class this as drought at the moment, the conditions we're already in."

He had long sold off his trading lambs, and would spread out the remainder to help them with food and shelter.

The weather was the worst since 2008, and was "very concerning", he said.

Anders Crofoot, who owns Castlepoint Station in Wairarapa, said the community was likely to meet soon to discuss the conditions, and possibly recommend to the Government that a state of drought be declared.

"Three weeks ago we were having a typical summer and there were certainly areas that were bloody dry, now we're getting to the point where if things don't happen in the next week or so we might have to start making some serious decisions."

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said central Hawke's Bay was "the driest part of the country", with no significant rainfall since October. But though farmers there were reporting the driest summer since the early 1980s, most were "well conditioned" for dry weather.

"Unfortunately we haven't learnt to control the weather . . . but it will rain, and every day's a day closer," Mr Wills said.

MetService spokesman Daniel Corbett said a big high over the country was slowly breaking up, and would bring "a few millimetres" of rain to the east coast tomorrow or Saturday.

After that another high was due to arrive, with dry, sunny weather likely to hang around for another few weeks before getting "back to normal".

"We're not going to flick a switch and get everything sorted in the next few days."

Niwa senior climate scientist Georgina Griffiths said the latest figures showed just how dry the summer had been, particularly in the north and east of the North Island.

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"It's been four months of dry, and it's been [unusual] because it's been sunny for those four months as well.

"It was a very hot December and there's been some extremely hot days in January as well."

Contact Seamus Boyer
Wairarapa reporter
Email: seamus.boyer@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @SeamusBoyer

- © Fairfax NZ News

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