Farmers hold little hope of decent rain

By Doug Laing

Hawke's Bay farmers have been given little or no respite from the drought with barely a trace of rain over the weekend, and temperatures forecast to soar as high as an abnormal late-March 31deg today.

No farmers contacted by Hawke's Bay Today by early last night had received more than 3mm, and all were left waiting - or "praying" as one put it - for substantially more than the occasional drizzle forecast for the rest of the week.

This comes on the back of Finance Minister Bill English now saying the drought could cost the nation's economy up to $2 billion - double the estimate a week earlier.

"The latest advice is that somewhere between $1b and $2b will be knocked off our national income, and as every week goes by, the prospect of it being $2b instead of $1b grows," he told TVNZ's Q + A programme yesterday.

Mr English further warned that the widespread drought could potentially knock 30 per cent off New Zealand's economic growth rate in a year.

Te Pohue farmer and Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills said "real" figures relating to Hawke's Bay drought impacts on the national economy would probably not emerge until beef and lamb returns in six months' time. A guide could be taken from recent estimates that farmers incomes for the year could be cut by one-third to a half over a year, with consequences in the towns that service the rural communities, he said. The situation has become particularly precarious in areas south of Napier, and through Central Hawke's Bay, in some cases bypassed by the most recent previous rain about 10 days ago and on February 5-6, and without any rain for more than two months.

It's been worse for the manager of Kahuranaki Station, south of Havelock North, where destocking started at the end of November.

Paul Robinson said yesterday afternoon, with a subtle hint of drizzle outside, he's shed 180 cattle and 2000 lambs. "It's the worst I can remember," he said. "We never got a spring, and it stopped raining in October. It's shot now."

He said that even if rain started falling at the rate of 25mm a week "and keeps coming" it would take until next spring to start getting back to "normal".

Selwyn Dorward, a Taihape Rd farmer in some of Hawke's Bay's driest country, west of Hastings, arrived home from Taupo yesterday to find "about 3mm" of rain in the gauge. Mangatahi horse breeder and farmer Graham De Gruchy was expecting more from the weekend weather.

"We've been praying. If we get 5-10mm, that's something, at least it's a start."

The Hastings weather station has since the start of September recorded just over 85mm of rain, compared to an historical average for the six-month period of about 200mm. There's been about 12mm in the last 10 weeks.

Practical support for stricken farmers has come with the arrival of a shipment of hay from the South Island. The hay was unloaded at Napier Port on Friday afternoon from the Chatham Island Shipping vessel MV Baldur and had been loaded at Timaru.

Another ship is scheduled to leave the South Island today, and a third later in the week, said East Coast Rural Support Trust Hawke's Bay co-ordinator Mike Barham.

Weatherwatch analyst Richard Green said the North Island needed 70-100mm of rain to break the drought. "But we don't want that all at once because the ground is so hard it would run off and create flooding. Ideally, we would like close to 100mm of rain over two to three weeks."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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