Drought decision needed

By Erika Venter

Farmers are lifting their heads with the potential of showers forecast, but even a few good downpours might not be enough to turn the effects of the dry completely, says Federated Farmers Taranaki president Harvey Leach.

"Farmers should be planning ahead now and look forward to where they need to be at the end of the first round of calving. Feed budgets are crucial and that goes hand in hand with cashflow - planning needs to be done now for the next 12 months."

MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett says there is a good chance of rain later this week to early next week. That is expected to be followed by a settled spell with more rain-bearing troughs appearing from April.

Taranaki has asked the Minister of Primary Industries that the province be declared a medium-scale drought area.

"This, firstly will be an acknowledgement that there is hardship. Secondly, assistance can be co-ordinated through Rural Support Trust for farm advisory and counselling services, and thirdly it allows discretion from Inland Revenue on things like income equalisation.

A declaration does not mean that there will be cash hand-outs, only hardship payments for those in extreme need."

Not all Taranaki has been affected equally. South Taranaki is the worst hit, followed by the north and then Central Taranaki.

A good number of farmers in the south and some in the north have moved to 16 hours or once a day to prolong their milking season.

"Even though there is still some green, the grass is still not growing quick enough to fully feed milking cows," Harvey says.

He says supplements made during spring and summer have been lower than normal (with some exceptions), which means those farmers feeding out are using their winter supply, and supplements due to the high demand are getting difficult to source.

"These dry conditions are expected to have a knock-on affect for all businesses that rely on farming for an income," says Harvey.

Graeme Pitman, Stratford Demonstration farm advisor, says Taranaki would need a good week of rain to start the recovery.

"Pasture growth through February was at about 80 per cent of normal levels. Cows milked fairly well through February, but at the end of February that started to change.

"The growth rate for March so far is at about half the normal levels."

Some farmers in South Taranaki have already started drying off.

"Concern is that the rain might come too late for a good autumn recovery. We also need good rain before the end of March to be able to get good responses from nitrogen fertilizer applied. February was dry, but the concern is more that it carried on into March."

Harvey says some farmers might feel overwhelmed, and his advice is for them to unload, to other farmers or to contact the Taranaki Rural Support Trust.


- Stratford Press

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