Bay summer one of driest on record

By Carmen Hall

Drought conditions cost Bay of Plenty dairy farmers $20 million in lost milk production last month and could threaten the kiwifruit harvest as new figures reveal the region had one of its driest summers since records began in 1898.

If low rainfall continues this month the Western Bay could follow Northland in being declared a drought zone.

A recommendation has already been made that a drought be declared in Rotorua district, Waikato and Thames/Coromandel.

If a formal drought is declared, extra government funding is made available to co-ordinate support. The Bay recorded 114mm of rain from December 1 to February 28 - less than half the rainfall expected in summer and making it the seventh driest on record.

Niwa figures also show Tauranga basked in 772 hours of sunshine and was the sunniest of the country's six main centres.

The weather has had positive spinoffs for businesses such as Dolphin Seafaris and ice-cream store Monte Gelato but Papamoa kiwifruit grower Rob Thode said the lack of rain could affect the size of kiwifruit at harvest, which starts on March 25.

"The fruit should be putting on a lot of size and weight at the moment and rain is a big part of that. Small fruit affects the pay-out you get ... smaller-sized fruit is not favoured by the market."

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Association president Neil Trebilco said growers with shallow soils and no irrigation would be feeling it the most, but the impact would not be known until the fruit was ready to be sold.

Zespri said some growers had reported smaller fruit in their early crops. Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty provincial president John Scrimgeour said milk production for February was down 20 per cent, pastures had dried up and some farmers were spending $300 a day on palm kernel to supplement feed.

The weather this summer has also led to an increased skin cancer risk.

Niwa said rainfall over the next three months in the Bay would be near average but early March was expected to be dry.

The Big Dry

  • Tauranga's hottest summer day was January 20 (30.4C).

  • Its mean afternoon temperature was 24.1C - 0.7C above normal.

  • Temperatures reached 25C or higher 24 times.

  • Te Puke broke a 60-year-old record with 30.1C.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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