11 Mar 2013

English rules out future rise in drought relief funding

5:47 pm on 11 March 2013

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English says the Government has no plans to increase its support in future for farmers affected by drought.

Official drought zones have been declared in Northland north of the Harbour Bridge, Auckland south of the bridge, Waikato including Taupo and Coromandel, Bay of Plenty including Rotorua, and Hawke's Bay.

Requests have gone to the Government to declare a state of drought in Taranaki, Manawatu-Rangitikei and, on Sunday night, Gisborne.

A meeting will be held on Tuesday to decide whether to seek a declaration for Wairarapa while on the West Coast a declaration will be sought if there is no rain within a week.

A drought declaration allows farmers to access hardship grants and support from the Rural Support Trust.

But Mr English says the Government has no plans to increase the amount of money available for farmers in the future.

"If it turned out that there was a succession of droughts, there's no amount of government assistance that can offset that effect on farming. But farmers are used to changing their farming practices. They've had drier periods in the past; they've had wetter periods in the past."

Earlier media reports quoted Mr English as saying government drought relief may become unsustainable in future because of climate change.

But Mr English says that was not what he intended to say.

Models from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research suggest most North Island regions and eastern parts of the South Island will spend up to 10% more of the year in drought conditions by the middle of the century.

Mr English says there are various methods farmers could use to adapt to drier conditions, including using drought resistant types of grass.