6 Mar 2014

Farmers struggle on parched land

3:44 pm on 6 March 2014

Dry weather and a lack of grass has hit dairy farmers on Northland's west coast for a second straight season.

Some farmers say they're much worse off this year than during the official drought in 2013 and the only thing keeping them going is the record milk payout.

On Northland's west coast.

On Northland's west coast. Photo: SUPPLIED

Lyall Preston and his brother run 830 cows on 380 hectares at Ruawai and he says they've had 180mm of rain since October - about half of what they need.

He says it's the driest it's been on their farm since 1982 and they've had to cull a lot of their herd to cope.

Mr Preston says from a herd of 830 he is now milking about 600 cows once a day.

He says half the cows that have been dried off have been sent to the works and half have been sold to other farmers on the other coast.

Mr Preston says he's also being forced to spend about $10,000 a week on palm kernel feed.

To make matters worse, the Prestons have also been hit by a plague of crickets, which have flourished in the dry cracked ground on their farm and began to eat what was left of their pasture.

South of Dargaville, Barbara Gillatt and her husband Roger milk about 180 cows on a 123-hectare property.

Ms Gillatt says it's the worst she's seen it in the 30 or so years she's been on the farm. She says last year there was "stalky stuff" to feed the animals that could be supplemented with meal and silage, but this year there is nothing for them on the ground.

The Gillatts stopped milking their herd on Tuesday - six weeks early because there's no feed available.

Craig Sanford runs a 130 hectare dairy farm at Ruawai, milking 330 cows.

He says its incredibly dry and that they're spending a lot on supplementary feed for the stock.

He also works as a sharemilker at a farm at Redhill near Dargaville, where he says conditions are even worse.

The Rural Support Trust has asked local government authorities covering the Northland region to recognise the plight of the west coast farmers and acknowledge that they are in the grips of yet another drought.

Its Northland officer Julie Jonker says for some farmers the situation is getting desperate.