1 Sep 2021

Hawke's Bay farmers watching gathering signs of a third 'big dry'

2:36 pm on 1 September 2021

Conditions in Hawke's Bay are being described as extremely dry as farmers prepare for another warm, dry spring.

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Hawke's Bay farmers are keeping an eye out for rain, with the prospect of a third dry summer looming. Photo: Hadley Boyle

For the past two years the region has been in drought over summer and it is looking like farmers could face a third.

Hawke's Bay Federated Farmers president Jim Galloway said they've only had about 280mm of rain so far this year.

"Underfoot it's very dry, a lot drier than normal and certainly for this time of year. Some areas had a little bit of rain yesterday but it's only enough to wet the top.

"We can dig a post hole and there's no water underground the way there would normally be. At the moment the dry is quite nice as there's no mud around when you're calving and lambing, but long term it could dry out very very fast."

He said farmers still have low stock numbers from the bad drought two years ago but may need to reduce them even further.

"No one I've talked to has got a surplus of feed, so they're all just just hanging in there. So if we get a hot dry patch, and it just goes off again, it could get a bit serious, or some people would have to make some decisions a lot earlier than they normally have to."

Galloway said it's a good time of year for farmers struggling with dry conditions to talk to their farm consultants and bank managers to make a plan for the future.

Unfortunately it doesn't look like there's much relief in sight, NIWA has just released its latest seasonal climate outlook which shows most of the country will have higher than average temperatures over the next few months.

Forecaster Chris Brandolino said the Hawke's Bay is in for a warm spring with below average rainfall.

He said that's not good as soil moisture in the area is already unusually low.

"So looking at the spring season, we're really going to be watching that groundwater recharge. Unfortunately, we did not get as much rain as probably we needed or wanted, especially the central and southern Hawke's Bay region.

"We need the ground to get saturated to recharge the groundwater.

"Growing season is getting underway, whether you're growing kiwifruit or you're in the wine industry you want the groundwater to be there, but right now the whole water system is in deficit."

Hawke's Bay Rural Advisory Group chair Lochie McGillivray said another dry spring and summer could push more farmers to sell into forestry as the carbon price is high.

"We've had a bit of rain but it's not enough. In some areas it's really dry - they're almost getting to a stress point, and with the soil being so dry that's affecting pasture growth.

"Some farmers who have had a couple rough years will be keen for the next generation to take over, some who have just taken over the reins will be wondering what the hell they've done and some will be contemplating selling to forestry."

McGillivray said with carbon forest companies paying above market value for land the region was already starting to look different.

"Traditionally wonderful lamb and cattle finishing properties, that's gone into forestry. It's not the seller's fault, it's the kind of situation we've got with carbon at over $50 a tonne."

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