Drought-hit farmers to get financial aid

Manawatu farmers are said to have lost up to a third of their year's income as the worst drought in 70 years envelopes the country.

A drought was officially declared for the entire North Island last month by Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy.

Rural Assistance Payments from Work and Income have been made available to farmers who are experiencing extreme hardship because of the effects of the dry weather.

Federated Farmers Manawatu-Rangitikei provincial president Andrew Hoggard says the assistance packages will be going to farmers who have no income and no savings.

"Anyone qualifying for one will be on the absolute brink."

Mr Guy says extra Government funding is now available to Rural Support Trusts that work closely with farmers providing support and guidance.

Climate scientist Jim Salinger says that New Zealand may experience more summers like this in the future. "What it means is that if it just doesn't rain for at least four months of the year, you have to bring in your water from elsewhere," he said.

Mr Hoggard says some farmers are less worried about feed and more concerned with finding a daily drink for their stock, with five of the region's rivers reaching record lows.

The Manawatu River is the lowest it has been for 85 years, and the Pohangina River hasn't been this low since records began in 1979, says Horizons regional council's manager of hydrology, Jeff Watson.

Although some rain has fallen, it has only given the soil a bit of a freshen-up and prevented moisture levels from falling further.

Mr Watson says the council's hydrologists are on the rivers several days a week, surveying the changes.

"If there's a change in the amount of water available, we need to let those on restriction know as quickly as possible so they can make the most of this precious resource."

Conditions mean farmers are having to send off their cattle for early slaughter or transport them to the South Island where more feed is available.

According to the Reserve Bank, the increase in animal slaughter will have "negative implications for production further out".

"If dry conditions persist or intensify they could substantially reduce economic output more generally," the bank says.

Business reports state that droughts contributed to the past two recessions, and economists are now lowering their GDP forecasts for this year and next.

In a 2011 report, Niwa stated that at the upper end of the scenarios, there would be a "strong shift to a more drought-prone climate over most agricultural regions, with well over a doubling of time spent in drought across most of New Zealand by the middle of the century".

- Hamilton News

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