Our farmers take lack of rain in stride

By Jamie Morton -
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Racegoers shelter as rain falls steadily at Tauherenikau during the New Year's Interislander Summer Festival race meeting. WAG 05Jan16 - RAINFALL: Rainfall puts a dampener on the horse races at Ta
Racegoers shelter as rain falls steadily at Tauherenikau during the New Year's Interislander Summer Festival race meeting. WAG 05Jan16 - RAINFALL: Rainfall puts a dampener on the horse races at Ta

Days of widespread rainfall might have washed out the holidays for summer campers, but for farmers in many places it's been merely a drop of what's needed to replenish drought-parched soils.

But you won't find farmers complaining much in Wairarapa, as they are familiar with the cycle of dry summers and prepare appropriately, according to Castlepoint farmer Anders Crofoot.

Despite rain over much of the country since New Year's Day, the latest climate map issued by the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere showed soil moisture in most regions was in deficit amid a summer intensified by a severe El Nino climate system.

The driest areas included Central Otago, Canterbury, Marlborough, Wairarapa, and parts of Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, the Central North Island, Waikato and Northland.

Mr Crofoot, who is also the Federated Farmers climate spokesman, said they are at least happy in Castlepoint about water tanks and dams being replenished over the past two days.

He said it has been "exceptionally dry" but the 100ml that fell in September meant a good spring for Wairarapa.

"It's going to be potentially quite a dry summer, but most people are set up for that."

He said the rain over New Year will not make any difference to the hill country pasture growth.

"In Castlepoint, old-timers say [rain in summer] is nothing but a nuisance."

He said grass goes dormant every year, as part of a cycle, and too much rain is detrimental.

"We got about 40ml out here, and that's not enough to break dormancy.

"It would be a disaster to have 100ml, then have nothing in January when it dries off again.

"You don't want to bring [grass] out of dormancy, and have it go back again."

He said crop farmers will be happy to have rain.

"For them, seasonal rain is wonderful. Anything green and growing will love it."

MetService forecaster Emma Blades said the New Year rain brought some reprieve to parched farmland in the north on Saturday, while the top of the South Island and the east of the North Island received a good soaking on Sunday.

However, Ms Blades said, high pressure is expected to build over New Zealand today, which will mean several days of dry weather.

Federated Farmers spokeswoman Katie Milne said that, for dry places, the rain hadn't come "anywhere near" what was needed to top up deficits.

"If we don't get more rain to follow it up, we'll just be back to square one."

Among the hardest-hit operations were sheep and beef farms in dry areas, which were facing their second drought in a row and had been unable to repay debts from last summer.

Climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger said the burst of rain was the result of a Madden-Julian Oscillation -- an eastward-moving pulse of cloud and rainfall from near the equator.

But Dr Salinger expected the next rainy spell wouldn't arrive until mid-February -- if at all -- and it wouldn't be until autumn that the strong El Nino began dying off.

Additional reporting:

Andrew Bonallack

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