6 May 2020

Drought relief 'too little too late' - Hawkes Bay farmer

6:25 pm on 6 May 2020

A Hawke's Bay farmer says the government's latest drought relief package - a $500,000 fund for advisory services - is a "drop in the ocean" and won't go far to alleviating struggling farmers' problems.

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Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Extremely dry conditions have hit much of the North Island and parts of the South Island in recent months and in some areas, including Central and Southern Hawke's Bay, the situation remains dire.

Grant Charteris farms deer and beef cattle at Tikokino in Central Hawke's Bay.

He said today's relief package was a case of "too little too late".

"It's a drop in the ocean and it's getting to a stage where, you know, how long's a bit of string? When is it going to end?

"And $5000 towards a few consultants and people doing a few feed budgets ... and don't get me wrong those sources are required and needed ... but it is a drop in the ocean and too little too late really.

"You know we should've been noticed a bit earlier and it's pretty disheartening."

Niwa said Napier had experienced its driest January to April period on record, while Hastings has been in drought for 29 consecutive days.

Conditions Charteris could attest to.

"We've been feeding out since January. Like I've already fed out 220 bales of baleage [wrapped silage] since January and about 40 tonne of maize and extras.

"And we've got a very short growing season and now we are in a situation where we are into May it's getting cold, there's snow on the ranges and feed is hard to source. It's tough, it's really tough."

Charteris said the drought had been exacerbated by a shortage of hay and silage and Covid-19 restrictions which had prevented neighbours helping each other out and also caused backlogs at freezing works.

The new fund will allow farmers to access up to $5000 for professional and technical advice. Two coordinators will also be appointed to help farmers dealing with serious feed shortages.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, also Biosecurity Minister, Food Safety Minister, Rural Communities Minister, Trade and Export Growth Minister of State

Damien O'Connor. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the package would help farmers get through what many were saying was the worst drought in living memory.

"Look, it's targeted at the areas that have been affected by drought so basically all of the North Island, but we've now got acute situations still in southern Hawke's Bay.

"And we've been working with the Rural Support Trust, Fed Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand to make sure that if there are farmers out there who need help someone is getting alongside them and helping them plan through this."

O'Connor said the feed coordinators would be particularly important.

"For some areas like the east coast of the North Island estimates are that they are about 30 percent down on what they need to go through the winter. So, they are looking at a big shortfall and these two people [the feed coordinators] we are appointing will help do that work directing the farmers."

Hawke's Bay Federated Farmers president Jim Galloway said the package would help - a bit.

"It will help some [farmers] get more clarity in the short term. It's a short term fix. So, everything helps. Certainly everything those that ask for it ,so it's worthwhile doing."

However, Galloway warned that the onset of winter was unlikely to provide any relief.

"The only problem with winter is when it's cold the grass doesn't grow as fast, so if we get rain and we turn cold we may not recover very well.

"It's going to have a several year affect because the breeding stock isn't going to be there so lambing percentage is going to be lower. So it's going to go right through the whole community, not just the farmers."

Today's package brings the total amount of funding relief announced by the government for drought hit rural communities so far this year to $17 million - much of which has been specifically targeted at farmers.

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