The drought gripping much of the Otago region is now worse than the last big one 15 years ago, according to the regional council.
It planned to go to the Government today to seek an official state-of-drought declaration.
Light rain of up to 5 mms has been falling on the coast this morning, bringing some relief to low-land farmers.
But that would do little for a wide band of land stretching from Outram near Dunedin through North Otago to South Canterbury, parts of which had not had serious rain since last April.
Otago Regional Council chief executive Peter Bodeker said it reviewed all the data this morning and the situation was very serious.
"The last big drought was 1999 and if you compare it to that one, this one is worse than that, so we had a drier spring and now we've got a drier summer," he said.
Mr Bodeker said the last three farmers irrigating on the Taieri Plains had their water turned off yesterday, and farmers in the Kakanui area of North Otago were down to watering paddocks only one day in eight.
He said an official government declaration of a State of Drought was needed.
"I'll be advising the minister's office and MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries] today as a result of our discussions and the work that we've done. We'll send them all the information that we've got and they'll obviously make that decision but I think if this is not a drought, I don't know what is."
He said there will also be serious environmental effects, as river levels were dropping to the point that would cause many fish to die.