Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Farmers in crisis as city fills pools

Big dry forces stock selloffs, but Aucklanders can still water gardens, wash cars thanks to Waikato River supplies

Cattle forage for feed in a drought-stricken paddock on State Highway 5, just north of Taupo. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Cattle forage for feed in a drought-stricken paddock on State Highway 5, just north of Taupo. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Farmers in the Auckland region are battling drought conditions, while townies down the road are able to water their gardens, fill their pools and take long showers.

Auckland, Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Coromandel and Taupo have all been declared drought affected.

But while most of the North Island is being asked to conserve water, Aucklanders are not facing restrictions because their water levels are being topped up by the Waikato River.

Federated Farmers chief executive Conor English said water is always available for domestic use before farms.

"When it comes to priority, humans always come first and stock come second, and then other uses come after that. When water gets short there are restrictions on watering your garden and all that sort of stuff, but in terms of the Waikato River it's a big river and I don't think it's running out of water anytime soon."

Franklin beef farmer Alan Cole said although most farmers had water from bores, there were some who could do with Waikato River water at the moment.

"It's just you Aucklanders that are able to get to that - millions of litres a day. Yeah ..."

Mr Cole said it would be the worst drought he had ever experienced if rain didn't arrive soon.

He was having to quit stock at great financial cost.

"The other big issue we have with this drought is that it's right across the North Island. [In] previous droughts we've been able to shift stock elsewhere, like the Waikato, but I think by the end of the month it will only be parts of Wellington that won't be declared a drought. That's the big problem with this one. It's pretty dire," he said.

A spokeswoman for Watercare Services said they were maximising use of the Waikato River. Usually the river provides about 20 per cent of the metropolitan water supply - or 125 million litres a day - but that level was being exceeded at the moment.

"We do always ask people to use water wisely as a matter of course."

The Waikato River levels were at a reasonable level and would never run dry, she said.

"We only kind of skim the top of it - there is a huge volume of water."

Aucklanders might not worry about water, but they could still feel a pinch at the till as the drought is expected to take a toll on food prices.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock said it would affect the yields of some crops - especially from areas with irrigation restrictions.

"It increases the cost of production for people who have to use irrigation more than they would normally do, and if people haven't got irrigation then it's definitely going to affect yields."

Fonterra said it couldn't predict if the dry weather would affect milk prices, but wholesale prices have spiked by 10 per cent, which would be reflected in the retail price.

Help is on the way for farmers struggling in drought-affected regions, with Government funding being made available to Rural Support Trusts.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said it could be a stressful time for rural families, who needed to know who to turn to.

No significant rain is expected before the end of the month.


Consumer queries

While it's too early to know exact figures on the impact on fruit and vege prices:

• Green vegetables could be hit by water shortages.
• Tomatoes won't be affected because they thrive in the current conditions.

Factors that determine how high the price of fruit and veges may rise:

• How many products are being stored in supermarket coolstores.
• What produce will be imported to compensate for the low yields.

Source: Horticulture NZ

- NZ Herald

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