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Dry Wairarapa summer leads to drought fears

By Trevor Quinn

Dry weather is causing a major headache for Wairarapa farmers, with many being forced to sell surplus stock because of a shortage of feed and the threat of drought.

The dry spell is set to continue until the first few days of next month.

Weatherwatch's Phil Duncan said apart from showers forecast for today, the rest of January would be warm and dry, with no prospect of rain until at least February 1.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president Jamie Falloon said he'd been contacted by farmers concerned about a shortage of feed because of the dry weather.

"Everyone in dry areas and very dry areas is certainly worried about the amount of feed they've got," he said.

"Farmers are selling their surplus stock of sheep and lambs and have been crossing their fingers [the dry spell] doesn't last long. If we don't get anything soon things will be getting pretty short."

Federated Farmers colleague Chris Engel said while many farmers had irrigation systems in place, rain was vitally important.

"I have irrigation covering three-quarters of my land but the land always needs rain to supplement our irrigation."

Masterton farmer Roddy McKenzie was thankful there had been quite a lot of rain in the spring, which had given local farmers breathing space, though they were still under considerable pressure.

"With the lamb schedule being down during the spring the [dry spell] will be a problem," he said. "It's the young farmers I feel sorry for, I've been here a while. Any farmers starting off in their first or second year will be feeling it but they must battle on."

Livestock agent Brian Diamond, an auctioneer for Elders, said feed shortages were preventing local buyers from acquiring stock: "Most local buyers couldn't buy a lot. A lot of stock was sold to Manawatu and the South Island."

Elders confirmed that the average price of two-tooths had dropped from $220 a year ago to $108 in January, while the average price of aged-ewes fell from $217 to $110, which had also posed challenges for farmers.

Mr Diamond's colleague Andrew Donaldson, also a livestock agent, said central Wairarapa seemed to be worst hit: "South Wairarapa is not that dry, it's up here that it's dry. The dry is restricted to here, Bideford and Wainuioru."

Mr Donaldson said some farmers had been getting an inch of rain (25.4 millimetres) and others about five millimetres.

"To those dry areas it will cause a challenge, yeah definitely. I know some [farms] where they've only got the ewes on and their cows and calves haven't got enough to graze. All their surplus lambs have gone and I know two guys who are looking for grazing for their ewes and lambs ... so it's not good in places."

Mr Donaldson said several farmers needed a really good downpour but, luckily, they had been able to get grazing.


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