'We need help' - Northland farmers hit by fifth drought in eight years

By Mike Dinsdale -
Northland is in a drought - its fifth in eight years - with paddocks across the region parched.
Northland is in a drought - its fifth in eight years - with paddocks across the region parched.

Northland is in a drought, with the Northland Rural Support Trust asking the Ministry for Primary Industries to officially recognise the region's Big Dry as a medium-scale adverse event, which will then trigger help for farmers.

A meeting yesterday between the Northland Rural Support Trust (NRST) and key stakeholders, including local authorities, MPI, Fonterra, DairyNZ, Horticulture NZ, Federated Farmers and banks has asked MPI to recognise the drought that is gripping the region, NRTS co-ordinator Julie Jonker said.

Ms Jonker said there were 27 people at the meeting and all agreed it was a drought - the fifth in Northland in eight years - and hoped MPI would now declare the region's drought a medium-scale adverse event.

If MPI did so it would inform Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, who would then likely visit Northland to trigger the government support for a drought.

"We don't need that official recognition to know we are in a drought, but what it does is trigger help for farmers and officially says Northland is in the grip of another drought," she said.

Mr Guy has been keeping an eye on the situation in Northland and last Thursday inspected a parched farm in Puhipuhi and another at Pouto, south of Dargaville while on official business in Kaipara.

"It's not unusual for Northland to be dry, and while spring has been good for farmers, the region needs rain. It's a bit of a concern," Mr Guy said at the time.

Ms Jonker said farmers needed serious rain - up to 100mm - but there was none on the horizon and soil moisture levels across Northland were extremely low.

"MetService has said there's little likelihood of significant rain in the next two weeks and we need help.

"We haven't just been sitting on our hands though. Farmers have been preparing as well as they can for this - reducing stock, going down to one milking a day, planting feed like maize and chicory - but the government assistance will help."

Types of support available during droughts to farming communities include:

• access to New Zealand's network of charitable Rural Support Trusts that are set up throughout the country to co-ordinate drought recovery activities

• assistance around flexibility with tax payments through Inland Revenue

• standard hardship assistance provided by Work and Income

• emergency benefits

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