Farmers looking forward to some rain but are coping well with conditions

By Doug Laing

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Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson says the region is looking forward to some rain.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson says the region is looking forward to some rain.

Farming groups, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and other agencies are keeping a close eye on the weather in Hawke's Bay as a long, dry spell threatens a possible drought, despite the winter's first show of snow this week.

With little pasture cover or water in some areas, a meeting of grower and farmer groups, the council, East Coast Rural Support Trust and Ministry for Primary Industries discussed the situation with many areas of Hawke's Bay having less than half the average May rainfall - some less then 20 per cent.

In the city areas, it's highlighted by Napier's rainfall of 200mm rainfall for the year, compared with a year-to-date average of 327mm, a Hastings rainfall of 176mm for the year compared with the average to-date of 315mm, and Mahia's 303mm, compared with the May to-date average of 493mm.

Council climate scientist Dr Kathleen Kozyniak said February to April had less than average rainfall across the region.

"The glaring exception is the Ruahine Ranges which seem to have captured the bulk of the rain that has headed our way," she said.

"Over 200 mm of rain has fallen there, which is 100 per cent of typical May totals."

Some rain is forecast for western ranges today, but none on the Heretaunga Plains where temperatures are again forecast to hit peaks of more than 20C.

Soil moisture in the north of the region was around or just below median levels, but in some places across the plains and south, such as HBRC monitoring sites at Bridge Pa and Ongaonga, soil moisture is at very low levels for this time of the year.

Farmers around the region reported to the meeting that, although conditions for many have been better than expected, rainfall had been patchy through autumn.

Some areas have little to no grass and little spare feed. The Pakipaki to Porangahau strip was most at risk.

The rain had been insufficient to get creeks flowing.

Towards the coast some farms have large areas unable to be grazed due to a lack of stock water.

"Northern Hawke's Bay is still pretty good but the Wairoa River has low flows as much as anywhere else. It's concerning that, like last year, around the rest of the region stock water is being challenged and farm dams are not full. We are looking forward to some rain," says HBRC chairman Fenton Wilson.

Farmers are asked to continue a watch on water availability and animal welfare, especially where stock are let into areas which have water and subsequently overgraze those paddocks.

On a positive note, large quantities of balage are available for purchase and grain is at lower prices than in 2015.

Other areas have fared better over autumn and are able to take stock for grazing over winter.

Facial eczema has been widespread but while not as bad as previously seen in the region, it has occurred in areas not usually affected. Vets are giving advice and farmers are generally keeping an eye out for FE.

Farmers will be aware that FE can put animals under more pressure near lambing and in late winter. Scanning is likely to be affected, and a high dry rate could result in further destocking.

The Rural Support Trust reported that farmer morale is still strong. To date very few calls have been received for assistance and support.

While a poor autumn has been experienced by most, in general farmers are coping well due to early planning and good decision-making.

"Depression is more likely to affect farmers when climatic and animal health stress occurs, but so far there have been no notifications to the trust. This is encouraging, but should our support be needed, we are here to listen and assist," says Lon Anderson.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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