Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Farmers demand drought declaration

Northland is asking the Government to declare a drought in the region.

Civil Defence, the council and rural representatives are calling on the Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy to issue a medium-scale adverse events declaration for the region.

During a conference call this morning they called for the Northland region, as a whole - from Auckland Harbour Bridge north - to be declared a drought zone.

Northland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Julie Jonker said most areas in Northland had been without rain, and none was forecast for the next fortnight.

She said milk production had fallen rapidly as farmers dry off some cows and moved to once-a-day milking.

Ms Jonker said she hoped the minister would respond by the end of the week.

A declaration would give the trust access to funding to provide advice to farmers and growers and allow for emergency financial help for rural families who lose their incomes.

Prime Minister John Key says there is a reasonably high chance a drought will be declared soon as the country's farmers become increasingly concerned.

Prime Minister John Key told TV3's Firstline the Government was keeping a close eye on the situation.

"The Minister for Primary Industries is working with the [farming] industry and I think that there is a reasonably high chance a drought will be declared fairly soon."

If that happens, the Government would provide farmers with financial and emotional support.

"One of the big risks of course is you have people whose whole livelihood is tied up in the farm. Through weather conditions they can't control, their livelihood is severely challenged and that can be very depressing for people. We just try and make sure there's an outreach programme of support so they don't feel isolated and lonely."

According to Weatherwatch, some much-needed showers crossed over Northland this morning but other dry parts of the country appear unlikely to get any.

Other than a few potential showers over the weekend, most of the country will remain hot and dry for the remainder of the week, with daytime temperatures often reaching the high 20s.

No sustained rain is forecast until the middle of March.

A Northland Rural Support Trust meeting today will assess whether most of the region is affected enough for drought action.

An official drought was declared in Northland in January 2010 and again the next summer in December 2010.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) says soil moisture levels are so low the region is dry enough to be considered a drought zone again.

Waikato also faces being declared a drought zone for third time since 2008 as dry weather forces many farmers to sell their stock much earlier than usual.

A committee has been formed to help manage the response to the drought risk in the region.

The continuous dry spell could also adversely affect farmers' income in Wairarapa for up to three years, Federated Farmers president Jamie Falloon said.

The Bideford farmer said a combination of falling lamb prices and persistent dry conditions are crippling sheep farmers.

"It's getting serious. If the dry conditions continue you'll see a marked drop in lambing and that is serious.

"The worst thing about a dry is when it spills in to two or three years. It's a very serious situation that people are facing."

- APNZ

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