Drought declaration expected in Waikato

By Matthew Backhouse, Hawke's Bay Today, Wanganui Chronicle, Northern Advocate

A drought is expected to be declared in Waikato and Hawkes Bay this week after brief showers did little to help parched farms.

Waikato's drought committee on Friday asked the Government to declare a medium-scale drought following weeks of hot, dry weather, while Hawkes Bay is expected to ask for a declaration when its drought committee meets tomorrow.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is expected to make a decision on both regions on Wednesday.

Should drought be declared in Waikato, it would apply from Taupo to the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The Government last week declared a drought in Northland, including the Auckland area north of the Harbour Bridge.

Patchy showers fell yesterday in the central, northern and eastern North Island, but were barely enough to top up water tanks and penetrate dry soil.

WeatherWatch said the brief, localised showers had brought about 5mm or less rain to the likes of Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty - well short of the 50-100mm needed to ease the dry soil conditions.

Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley said all the rain had done was make it a lot more humid, which increased the risk of eczema amongst stock.

Hawkes Bay drought committee member and Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said there would be "serious implications" for sheep and beef farmers if it did not rain in the next month.

He said declaring a drought would bring in low level support in severe areas, as well as help from the East Coast Rural Support Trust including budgeting help, counselling and co-ordinating feed supply.

Federated Farmers national president and Hawkes Bay farmer Bruce Wills said even if a drought was not declared, there would be some assistance targeted at those rural areas most in need.

In Northland, farmers could be facing a further feed shortage with palm kernel expeller (PKE) in high demand but short supply.

Farm supply companies RD1 and Ravensdown said they only have enough PKE for already contracted farmers, but there was little available on the spot market.

Northland Rural Support Trust spokeswoman Julie Jonker said lack of available feed was another hit for the region's farmers, who were finding the situation desperate.

As well as the PKE shortage, last season's haylage and silage production was low, leaving many farmers with few options but to dry out their beasts.

The dry weather is also causing problems in Manawatu and Rangitikei, where rural representatives are preparing an application for drought relief, which could be made next week.

Federated Farmers Manawatu/Rangitikei meat and fibre chairman Fraser Gordon said 48,000 stock were trucked out of Taihape last week.

River levels in the region were very low, with the Oroua at a 15-year low and the Rangitikei was at an eight-year low.

Landowners could still take stock water from the Rangitikei, but the huge irrigators that have been watering crops and dairy pasture in the lower Rangitikei for the last month will have to be turned off.

WeatherWatch analyst Richard Green said the dry spell would continue for at least the next fortnight, with pockets of showers providing nothing of significance.

He said the anticyclones which had been blocking potential rain-makers were expected to last until the end of the month, which was bad news for farmers.

Central, northern and eastern parts of the country could get some more significant rain about a fortnight from now - but long-range models in the last month had often promised rain but failed to deliver.

- APNZ

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