Declare a drought, Wairarapa farmers urge Govt

By Nathan Crombie of the Wairarapa Times-Age -
An emergency meeting in Masterton yesterday voted to petition the Government to formally declare a Wairarapa drought. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age
An emergency meeting in Masterton yesterday voted to petition the Government to formally declare a Wairarapa drought. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age

Wairarapa farmers have sought a declaration of drought for the region amid mounting stress levels in rural communities and a relentless lack of rain.

The region's farmers held an emergency meeting alongside territorial authority and agricultural industry representatives at The Wool Shed in Masterton yesterday and voted to request the formal declaration from the Government. A drought committee was formed to consider and generate "further actions".

The move came a day after Tararua farmers petitioned the Ministry of Primary Industries for drought to be officially declared in their region.

The meeting heard rainfall had been well below average for the past six months and was about 60 per cent of normal summer rainfall. Water restrictions had been in force in the region for about a month and the Ruamahanga River was bordering on one-in-30-year low flow levels.

Soil moisture levels had plunged to about 135mm below average and 50mm of rain or more was needed for good pasture growth and to ensure adequate pasture cover for stock heading into winter. the meeting heard.

David Holmes, Masterton farmer and district councillor, said farmers "farm for the dry in Wairarapa" but the searing summer had struck directly off the back of winter, denying vital rain for supplementary feed crops.

"There was no spring. We virtually went from winter to summer and people had no chance to store supplementary feed - there was no real growth. What's different is the dry spring and autumn, that's causing the problem," Mr Holmes said.

A good season last year, with healthy returns, meant farmers were having to now "pay their taxes in a low income year with a drought tacked on to it," he said. A drought declaration would provide an opportunity for deferred tax payments.

Jamie Falloon, meeting chairman and Wairarapa Federated Farmers president, said the declaration was not a bid for charity and he was grateful for the community's support and understanding.

The growing count of North Island regions struggling through drought had cut stock buyers and grazing-out options and created long queues at the abattoir, he said.

The Rural Support Trust and other agricultural agencies had noted "an increase in the stress levels within the rural communities".

"It's not a handout for farmers, and farmers aren't asking for money. It's the psychological benefits a declaration of drought would mean as much as anything else."

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