North faces 3rd drought in four years

By Annette Lambly

Farmers await Minister for Primary Industries' decision on region's dry spell.

Northland rural leaders could ask the Government to declare the region an official drought zone for the third time in four summers.

A Northland Rural Support Trust meeting tomorrow will assess whether most of the region is affected enough for drought action.

Trust co-ordinator Julie Jonker said the group was assessing the effect of the dry spell on the region.

An official drought was declared in Northland in January 2010 and again the next summer in December 2010.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) says soil moisture levels are so low the region is dry enough to be considered a drought zone again.

Figures from the Northland Regional Council show that, so far this year, 19.6mm of rain has fallen in Whangarei compared with the average of 220mm; in Dargaville 22.6mm has fallen compared with the 163mm average; 34mm in Kaikohe (222mm); 46mm in Kerikeri (121mm), and 16mm in Kaitaia (174mm).

Ms Jonker said there were still "patchy areas" which weren't as badly off as others in the region, but farms in Dargaville, Warkworth and the Far North were already suffering from severe soil moisture deficit.

Strong winds were further decreasing soil moisture levels with no rain predicted until the end of the month.

Niwa's assessment of the conditions, along with information from the trust, would combine to help the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, decide whether to declare a drought event. It is likely he would visit the region before making the final decision.

This would bring support 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, even working with banks, accountants and farm advisers during the difficult period.

-APN

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