Drought decisions urged as skies stay blue

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 08:00 23/02/2013

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While Waikato wants to declare a drought now, Manawatu may still be at least a week off making a similar call.

Paddocks are dry, especially in the hills and lighter sand country, and there was no rain on the horizon to ease conditions for at least the next week. Some rain is forecast early next month.

Manawatu/Rangitikei Federated Farmers will meet next week to find out more about conditions through its areas.

Federated Farmers, with input from the Rural Family Support Trust can apply for drought status, but a decision to declare a drought is done by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

Minister Nathan Guy said Waikato had not yet reached the official threshold for a drought but was "not far off"'.

He said he and the ministry were keeping a close eye on conditions.

The ministry, Waikato Regional Council, Federated Farmers and Rural Support Trust would decide whether to declare a drought and whether it would be deemed a local drought (declared by the council), or a medium-scale or large-scale adverse event, decided by the minister.

After weeks of no rain and no foreseeable relief in forecasts for the next three weeks, Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley says it is time to get serious and look at all aspects of declaring a drought.

Mr Buckley said it was getting serious for Waikato farmers.

"For some farmers it is more than serious - it's got to the stage where we need to make some decisions."

No discernible rain was forecast until the first or second week of March, and some farmers had stopped milking their dairy herds earlier than usual for the year because of the dry weather.

One of the major outcomes for these people was that they had no income coming in, Mr Buckley said, and nowhere to go for relief.

A drought declaration - at either national or local level - is important because it triggers financial support for farming households through Rural Support Trusts, Mr Buckley said.

"They won't get money to buy stock feed but they can get money for their living costs."

Waikato University agribusiness professor Jacqueline Rowarth said most farmers would rather receive decent pay for their product than drought relief.

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- Manawatu Standard

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