Drought crisis deepens
Manawatu and Rangitikei are now in the grips of the worst drought in a lifetime and the government's official declaration should have come sooner for the region, farmers say.
Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy announced yesterday on a farm in Kimbolton that the entire North Island would be made a drought zone. But farmers say Manawatu and Rangitikei hill country is drier than many North Island areas now officially declared in drought and the announcement took too long to come.
Manawatu/Rangitikei meat and fibre chairman Fraser Gordon, who has been farming since the 1970s, said the dry conditions were the worst in his lifetime.
"We should have been called three weeks ago. To me, it's the biggest drought since 1947."
He said the full effects of the drought would be felt when frosts hit in six weeks' time if rain had not moistened the parched ground.
"Once we get to that point there's going to be some serious health issues - for stock and for farmers.
"It's those younger farmers that I'm really worried about. If they only started out last year I can't see how they can get through this crisis."
The timing and widespread nature of the announcement surprised Manawatu/Rangitikei dairy chairman James Stewart.
Mr Stewart said he had thought the official drought declaration would come before Mr Guy had returned from his trip to Latin American.
Instead, yesterday's declaration had painted Manawatu as being in the same state as areas like Horowhenua, which he said was catching up fast, but probably not in drought yet.
"I had expected it to be called on Wednesday at the latest, but the fact that Nathan [Guy] waited until Friday and then did the big announcement well that's blimmin' typical - he waited for the photo-op," Mr Stewart said.
"All we really want is rain. Drought declaration is fine but without rain it won't make a lot of difference."
Mr Guy defended his decision to declare Manawatu a drought zone at the same time as the rest of the North Island.
"I flew down from Auckland [yesterday] morning and I spent most of my time looking out the window. It's dry everywhere."
He said his trip to Latin American had no impact on the timing of his announcement.
"This is a serious event but we have to remember, farmers are tough, farmers are resilient, they have battled through drought and snowstorms and all sorts before and they will get through this."
Weather statistics show that a dry finish to March will put 2013 into the record books as one of the driest, sunniest and warmest on record.
The dry weather has not just affected farmers. The Turitea dam level has dropped to 3.09 metres below capacity, giving the city 38 days' water storage before it becomes bore-dependent. Palmerston North City Council staff are not expecting the chance of rain on Sunday to relieve the city's water shortage and Level 2 hosing restrictions remain in place, allowing handheld garden hosing only on alternate days on alternating sides of the street between 7pm and 9pm.
Data showed some of the region's rivers had dropped to their lowest levels in over 30 years with the Makakahi Stream near Eketahuna at its lowest since records began in 1979 and the Whanganui River in parts at a 35-year low.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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