Plea for drought to be declared

By Annette Lambly, Mike Dinsdale

Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy will be in Northland today to listen to farmers' pleas to declare the region an official drought zone for the third time in four summers.

With Northland milk production falling by 19 per cent a day and feared to reach levels below the record drought of 2010, the Government has been asked to declare the region an official drought zone.

The region's farmers are struggling to cope with prolonged and severe dry conditions and after a meeting between the Northland Rural Support Trust and the region's rural leaders yesterday , an official request was put to the Mr Guy, to declare the "medium scale adverse weather event".

It's the third time in four summers the region (north of the Harbour Bridge) has been affected by drought, and Mr Guy will visit the region today to see the parched conditions first hand.

He will visit a dairy farm on Baylys Coast Rd, Dargaville, to see how badly the big dry has hit and yesterday the Minister received a briefing on the situation from Whangarei MP Phil Heatley.

Support Trust spokeswoman Julie Jonker said farmers had taken all steps possible to cope to date, but with with no rain forecasted for the immediate future the situation was getting worse.

Milk production was already falling 19 per cent a day, she said, and it was heading to the point where production would fall below that of the 2010 drought, which was the worst in the region for 100 years.

The availability of supplements was being compromised by unseasonal demand and the dry growing season had also meant good quality maize silage would be affected as crops began to dry and brown off.

Autumn calvers and those with breeding ewes would likely be hardest hit. "It is important ewes are in good health going into mating or conception rates fall dramatically," said Mrs Jonker. With no rain and autumn calving just around the corner farmers will face difficulties in providing for their milkers, she said. Mrs Jonker said the dry spell had already had severe financial affect on farmers who were already coping with a lower payout.

"We expect he [the Minister] will make a decision by the end of the week". If Mr Guy declares a drought, it would kickstart relief in the form of grants and assistance packages for farmers.

Agriculture facilitators are the first of frontline assistance - a free service which helps farmers to arrange emergency benefits, counselling if needed and even working with banks, accountants and farm advisers.

Figures supplied by the Northland Regional Council show that the eastern hills of Kaeo received the highest amount of rain so far this month at 77.5mm, followed by Waimate North at Okaihau at 66mm. At 9.5mm, Poroti recorded the lowest rainfall while Ruakaka central and Ruakaka north both received 23mm each.

- Northern Advocate

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