5 Mar 2020

Drought-hit Northland farmers ask for financial support

4:36 pm on 5 March 2020

Some farmers in Northland are starting to come forward for financial assistance as a drought in the region continues.

Paddocks dry from the Northland drought.
Kaikohe area

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Drought conditions there were classified as an adverse event for the primary sector early in February and in South Auckland and Waikato a few weeks later.

The declaration opened up funding for rural support trusts to help support affected farmers.

Northland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Julie Jonker.

Julie Jonker Photo: Supplied

Julie Jonker from the Northland Rural Support Trust said a rural assistance payment is designed to help cover basic needs.

''Farmers that can't work off farm, farmers that don't have other sources of income, farmers that aren't on any sort of benefit that are suddenly still having to feed stock and can't put food on the table, that's what the rural assistance payment is to help with.''

She said a lot coming forward are sharemilkers or contract milkers because their income is suddenly reduced if the farm has to dry-off early.

''These people have families and they still have actions to do on farm but they don't have really have an income coming in any more.''

Jonker said some farmers are already starting to use some of their winter feed for stock and some are having problems sourcing water on farm for stock and are having to truck it in.

'' I know someone who put down a bore in 1964 and for the first time ever he's not able to draw water from it because it's dry.''

She said the farmer cannot get a new bore drilled until June and in the meantime he is carting in water for his stock at a rate of about 5000 litres per day.

''In some places it is very difficult.''

Jonker said farmers are coping as they usually do. ''Talking to neighbours, trying to find other places to get their stock to water, trying to see if they can share and other than that, they ring the Rural Support Trust and we try to help.''

She said banks are being very supportive at this stage.

''They are getting out their early to their farmers and putting in place actions to help them minimise distress going forward.''

She said there is more concern for farmers who do not have a good relationship with their bank.

''These are the smaller ones that often go under the radar. These are the ones harder to reach and the harder ones to know where we need to put support for them.''

Jonker said the drought is worse than the one in 2010.

''Because we have got water shortages a lot earlier and this has been my biggest concern as we need to know going forward and we are conducting a survey to find out exactly how farmers are placed.''

Jonker is encouraging farmers to take part in the water and feed availability survey in Northland.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor visited Northland on Thursday to speak with locals and farming leaders battling drought in the region.

He attended Northland Fieldays in Dargaville.

O'Connor said some patchy rain in the area on Wednesday night will not go far in helping farmers.

''Clearly they need a lot before they catch up with what has been a rainfall deficit and water deficit for some time so quite a way to go and obviously the issue of feed supply into the winter is a thing that is concerning farmers at the moment.''

Farmers in Waikato urged to undertake weekly plans

Further south in Waikato the dry just keeps on keeping on.

Neil Bateup from Rural Support said planning and decision making is the name of the game as dairy farmers think about drying herds off early.

''Farmers need to weekly be having a good look at their position, have a look at their supplement stores and do their feed budgeting through to winter.''

He said if farmers do run down their winter feed reserves and cannot feed stock well over the winter then they get less performance the following year.

''It is not a one-year thing, it is a two-year thing.''

Bateup said no farmers in Waikato have yet applied for financial assistance.

''We are probably a month behind Northland, they got dry a lot earlier than us.

''Within a month we could well be facing the same.''

Bateup said 2008 was a particularly tough summer due to drought which went through to the middle of April.

''Traditionally over many, many years around the 20th of March often there is a change in the weather."

He said the ideal amount of rain would be about 100mm of rain over about four days.

''Every day is closer to the rain,'' he said.

Farmer in front of his tractor

Neil Bateup from Rural Support expects Waikato farmers to start applying for financial help shortly. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Fire danger still high for Tasman, Nelson

Despite recent rainfall, fire danger levels throughout most of Nelson and Tasman remain high.

A total fire ban is still in place across the Nelson and Tasman district except Golden Bay which has a restricted season due to rainfall in February.

Fire and Emergency say they are closely monitoring and assessing the conditions daily.

Principal Rural Fire Officer Ian Reade says there is still a large amount of dead grass around which presents a risk for fire ignition and spread.

He asks everyone to continue not taking any risks.

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