Aid for drought hit farmers

By Doug Laing, Lawrence Gullery

The Government will declare Hawke's Bay a drought region this morning avoiding a repeat of some of the big-dry devastation of the past.

The Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy will make the announcement from Latin America where he is on a trade mission with the Prime Minister John Key, Hawke's Bay Today understands.

Mr Guy was kept up to date with Hawke's Bay primary industry and council representatives which decided to ask the government for the declaration at a meeting in Napier yesterday.

The declaration is expected to involve tax breaks for farmers selling breeding stock this financial year and access to bank drought zone packages which will include overdraft options.

A Hawke's Bay Drought Committee will be formed to monitor the weather, the state of livestock, stock food supplies and the moral of farmers.

The meeting in Napier yesterday was told the Bay was enduring its driest six-month period in 50 years.

Regional council chairman, Northern Hawke's Bay farmer and meeting host Fenton Wilson said while the situation had been monitored for "some weeks," it was in the last fortnight that the dry situation had started to bite.

"There is no sign of rain relief in the near future," he said, acknowledging farmers had not yet seen the worst and most are coping

"By requesting a drought declaration, various assistance provisions can be triggered for farmers facing more severe hardship," he said.

Federated Farmers national president and Te Pohue sheep and cattle farmer Bruce Wills, who was at the meeting with other rural sector and local council representatives and Ministry of Primary Industries staff, hopes its a "response" rather than a "recovery".

"Hawke's Bay is accustomed to this type of event, so most farmers have planned and are getting-on reasonably well," he said. "North of Napier is probably OK, but south of Napier is pretty serious."

That's highlighted by long-range forecasts, which predict some rain north of Napier as early as the weekend.

In his own situation, he's put in more than 70 dams on his property over the past five years.

"I'm a big fan of storage," he said, noting more rain was recorded on his property last year than in any other year since the 1950s. "We get plenty of rain, but it comes at the wrong times."

There is particular concern about farmers' stress levels with worries about what may be ahead, including whether these is sufficient feed for wintering stock, in the unusual situation of a much wider spread drought.

Affecting much of the North Island, it means less capability for one area to help another out, as happens with more localised rural adversities.

Mr Wills said stress and worry could lead to poor decisions by farmers, whose welfare is is being monitored by the East Coast Rural Support Trust.

Ironically, the meeting was scheduled for a day which produced the first rain in much of Hawke's Bay for a month.

At Te Pohue, Mr Wills recorded 8mm, after waking in the middle of the night, disbelievingly hearing the sound of the respite, and racing outside to make sure.

It wasn't enough, but Hawke's Bay doesn't need huge downpours, such as those of Cyclone Bola, a disastrous drought-breaker where the first rain also fell on March 5 - 25 years ago.

"We need gentle rain, over a few days, and 3-4 days of a gentle easterly," he said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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