Drought could be the worst in 50 years

By Doug Laing, Lawrence Gullery

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council has started preparing for a possible extended drought which could become the region's worst in over 50 years.

Chairman and Northern Hawke's Bay farmer Fenton Wilson says the council is preparing an update on conditions throughout the region for presentation to Primary Industries minister Nathan Guy.

The issue has been a dearth of rain in many areas since last winter, a situation highlighted last night by veteran farmer and stock buyer Don McLeod, of Fernhill, who says rain is urgently needed in the next fortnight.

If not, he says, it could be the worst drought in the region since 1961-62 - which was memorable for not only the harsh conditions of the time but also how it made the first months of married life.

MetService is currently forecasting some rain for next Sunday and Monday, to be followed more prolonged dry weather with wind and temperatures into the mid-high 20s later in the week.

Others are talking in terms of a drought heading towards the proportions of what was better known as the Canterbury Drought of 1987, estimated to have cost the country about $360 million, and much more after Cyclone Bola, the chronic Hawke's Bay and East Coast drought-breaker and Wairoa bridge-wrecker of March 6-8, 1988.

Mr McLeod wouldn't be calling for the same 700mm-plus rainfalls of that calamity, but said: "There are some properties which have had only 80-90mm of rain since July.

"If we don't get the rain we need in the next fortnight we won't get the winter growth," he said. "If we get rain in the next fortnight we'd have a good autumn ... but we need a good soaking."

The Northern Manawatu situation was highlighted at the weekend when a tanker of water was offered as a raffle prize in a sports day raffle.

The situation is seeing a clean-out of lambs in Hawke's Bay, with one property understood to have transported over 10,000 to better irrigated property in the South Island.

Mr Wilson said the lack of rain over the past four months is an issue coming to a head for rural people.

"It looks as though Waikato is heading into a drought and Hawke's Bay is not far behind," he said.

"We have some work to do next week, putting some facts together showing where we sit."


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