Farmers ok as weather stays dry

By Laurel Stowell

The wider Wanganui region is drying out - but most farmers are coping.

It's still a long way short of conditions north of Auckland, where Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy has been asked to declare a drought zone.

However, soil across the region is in extreme deficit, with more than 130mm of moisture lacking, a National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) spokeswoman said.

There has been less rain than average in Wanganui, Ohakune and Taihape every month since October - with the exception of Taihape in November which got 119 per cent of the average. The dry has set no records, but the average of only 58 per cent of usual rainfall in Ohakune across four months came close to one.

Additionally, temperatures in December and January were unusually hot. West of Wanganui, grain farmer Alan Taylor is enjoying the dry weather during his harvest time. He's cutting grain seven to 10 days earlier than usual.

He got 70mm of rain at Westmere on February 4 and 5, but said it disappeared fast. He'll want more next month, when autumn planting begins.

Ohakune market gardener Bruce Rollinson began harvesting winter vegetables in early February, and said carrots and parsnips had enough water because they were deep rooted. Potatoes and Brussels sprouts are being irrigated.

The Waimarino had 30 to 50mm of rain in early February, but soils have since dried. There were no restrictions on irrigation yet.

The Mangawhero River, fed by melting snow, is running at 1200 litres/second and restrictions will kick in when it gets below 1000 l/s. Mr Rollinson reckons there is another two weeks' watering to be had before that, which will see growers through. The dry spell is not as severe as the one he remembers in 2008.

"It's certainly dry, but it's not dire. There are no massive yield reductions, not like in central Hawke's Bay."

Ron Frew grows sheep and beef and runs a dairy farm in the Waimarino. He said it was as dry and parched as he had ever known it in February.

"The main thing is that everybody is having to sell stock sooner than they normally would, at prices that aren't all that attractive."

His dairy farm west of Raetihi got 170mm of rain in January, but had dried out since. Next week he will move to milking once a day if there is no change. He's been giving the cows supplementary feed of cereal and grass silage, and balage, and still has a good supply.

He had heard of a Taihape station that had to sell off cattle early at hugely reduced prices, because feed had run out.

But Taihape sheep and beef farmer Richard Collier is not in that position. He said he was looking at reducing sheep numbers more than usual, and would be getting poor prices for store sheep. His cattle still had enough "rough stuff" for feed.

Streams were running low to dry there, the hills looked brown, and some neighbours were having problems with animals getting bogged in the edges of drying dams.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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