Drought conditions declared in Northland


As the government declares a drought in Northland, one Fonterra farmer said he’s going to have some tough decisions to make.

Most of Northland had a third of their normal rainfall throughout December, making it tough on farm. Michael Rope has been farming for nine years in Northland and said he’s feeling the heat.

"It’s very dry basically, but we are looking for ways to keep milking as long as possible,” he said.

“If the drought continues, I’ll be making some pretty tough calls later in the summer.”

For Michael, those tough calls include deciding whether to cut back on supplement feeding and dry off, or continue milking with the hope it will rain soon.

He said every year there’s a drought it gets a little bit harder on the farm because it takes longer for the grass to recover.

According to NIWA Climate Scientist, Nava Fedaeff, the three month outlook for Northland is looking much the same.

“It’s looking very dry for the next three months. We are expecting some rain around the 11th-14th February however, it’s too early to be certain,” said Fedaeff.

Michael milks 1000 cows on the family farm and runs both an autumn and spring calving operation. On both farms he said he is digging into more winter supplements than he’d like.

He’s planted both chicory and maize but is having to buy in feed to keep production levels up due to an average spring.

On his spring calving farm he said he will continue the additional feeding until the end of February and then those tough calls will have to be made.

Fonterra’s Head of Farm Source Northland, Eric Morrison, said many farmers are in a similar position to Michael Rope.

“These dry conditions are really tough on farmers and their stock. The Farm Source team are working with them to find ways to help farmers through this as best they can.”

Eric welcomed the additional government support triggered by the government’s declaration of a medium-scale adverse event, and said it would help hard-pressed farmers.

The government is making extra funding available to the Rural Support Trusts and in extreme cases Rural Assistance Payments would be available to farmers in severe hardship. Inland Revenue is also allowing affected Northland farmers to defer tax payments and apply for early refunds.

The government is also keeping an eye on many dry parts of the East Coast of the North Island and supporting North Canterbury in their recovery.

Northland’s most recent rain, although welcomed, wasn’t enough to break the dry spell.
Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne are also suffering from dry conditions, with Gisborne and Napier having less than 5ml of rain throughout January. 

Every Thursday, NIWA puts out a hotspot watch, looking at the soil over the last week and the next week’s forecast. This is released on Twitter, Facebook and their website www.niwa.co.nz.