James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Big dry's ravages getting worse

Farmers throughout the North Island continue to hope for rain as the big dry bites hard, making conditions for some worse than the 2008 drought.

One of them is Peter Brown. Since the Herald last spoke to him two weeks ago, he has seen only a spattering of rain on his Ohinewai dairy farm.

Two weeks ago, Mr Brown said this year's drought was no worse than that of 2008, but after drying his herd of 199 cows seven weeks earlier than normal and with his stock condition not improving, he is starting to question that assessment.

"I was hoping we would have had significant rain by now, but it's causing more headaches by the day really," he said.

"It's biting into cow condition, which will affect next year's production, and if we don't get the grass we won't be able to put enough condition on our cows prior to calving and then that is going to impact on next year's production as well."

Mr Brown' stock are surviving on bailed silage trucked in from Waiouru and the maize silage he has produced on his 98ha farm, about 45 minutes' drive from Hamilton.

Despite temperatures cooling and the days becoming shorter, his farm, like dozens of others throughout the Waikato, needs at least 110mm of rain for the soil conditions to return to normal.

In 2008 those rains did not come until mid-April.

"Two weeks ago I believed we were in a better position but it's probably on a par at the moment and if you ask me in another two weeks and we still haven't had any rain I might say this actually supersedes that.

"But at this stage it would be on a par in terms of no adequate rainfall and the length of the dry spell, it has certainly gone on beyond the length of what we would call normal."

Mr Brown's thoughts have already turned to the next milking season and he is worried about his cows' condition and the fact that he has only seven weeks of feed supply left and costs for silage are rising.

Niwa agricultural climatologist Alan Porteous said more regions had been affected by this drought and the evapotranspiration deficit - which measures the missing soil moisture - from September to the end of February was slightly greater than during the 2007/08 drought.

Soil moisture deficits for more than 90 per cent of the North Island range from 70mm to 130mm, meaning this amount of rain is needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal.

"This drought has affected more of Northland, more of the Bay of Plenty and it's more intense in places like Gisborne and parts of the East Coast of the North Island.

"Overall, it's probably worse than the 2007/08 drought in subjective language."

Little rain on the horizon

Dry conditions are expected to remain throughout much of the country until Sunday, when parts of the West Coast of the South Island are expected to get rain.

Weatherwatch head analyst Phillip Duncan said no quick fixes were in sight for the drought but the long dry spells of January and February were being broken by daily showers in many parts of the country. MetService forecaster Philippa Murdoch said a ridge of high pressure meandering slowly east meant more fine and dry weather this week.

Finance Minister Bill English said the latest Treasury advice estimated the drought could cost the economy as much as $2 billion.

- NZ Herald

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