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James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Lush autumn pastures bring smiles all round

Despite good growing conditions, the effects of the summer drought are likely to remain for some time yet and farmers still have a lot of ongoing costs to keep their animals in good shape without any income

Te Awamutu Golf Course was on the verge of being declared a drought in February, now it is green again.  Photo / Christine Cornege
Te Awamutu Golf Course was on the verge of being declared a drought in February, now it is green again. Photo / Christine Cornege

The rain is here and the grass is growing but some farmers will still be battling the effects of the worst drought in 30 years over the winter months.

The North Island is officially still a drought zone despite most places recording normal soil moisture levels and lush and growing pastures.

The Ministry for Primary Industries said the drought declaration would remain in place until September 30 to coincide with the end of winter and early spring.

Finance Minister Bill English said in March that the cost of the drought was more than $1 billion but moving towards $2 billion.

Rural Support Trust Waikato chairman and Ohinewai dairy farmer Neil Bateup said things were now looking good with enough feed for his 700 cows for the winter and pastures growing well.

Earlier this year, his farm, like most in the area, was barren and dry after virtually no rain between December and March.

Production was down 11 per cent on last year and Mr Bateup had to buy $70,000 of feed above what he would have bought in a normal year.

The Waikato has had three droughts since 2008 - something Mr Bateup and other farmers are wary of. "There is a mental toll to those things happening.

"Farmers are pretty resilient normally and generally pretty positive people but if things like that keep happening on a regular basis it does make things very hard."

Dairy New Zealand said national milk production was down 2 per cent for the year to date compared with last season.

It said the drought cost on average $100,000 for each North Island dairy farm affected through a combination of extra feed costs and a drop in production.

But regional team manager Craig McBeth said many farms had bounced out of the drought reasonably well thanks to good rainfall that had recharged soil moisture levels and warm temperatures.

"To give credit to the farmers, what they did very well was make very good management decisions, drying their cows off early, de-stocked early and were careful not to overgraze their pastures ..."

Federated Farmers' adverse events spokeswoman Katie Milne said irrigation restrictions and water bans had been lifted around the country and farmers were now in recovery mode. But she said farms had a lot of outgoing costs to keep their animals in good condition with no income coming in.

"The grass is growing, no doubt about that, but there is thousands of kilograms of feed missing out of the system and, really, the ugliest part now is some of the biggest costs farmers are about to be faced with now.

"The first of the real chickens are coming home to roost now; that's why the government isn't going to declare the drought over until September."

Niwa agricultural climatologist Alan Porteous said soil moisture levels had returned to normal throughout most of the North Island, although eastern parts from around Gisborne to the Wairarapa were still short of water, as were parts of Southland and Otago.

"The main concern now is that water deficits need to be made up during winter so that there is no early deficit in spring," he said. "The good news is that soil temperatures have been above normal in many places so grass is still growing ..."

- NZ Herald

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