Taihape still in grip of drought

By Laurel Stowell

Recent rain has made most of the region look greener but done nothing for drought-stricken Taihape farmers.

More rain is needed, and the region is still officially in drought.

Outdoor fires are banned across the whole region, and no permits are being issued. The ban will be reviewed on Monday, Fire Service Wanganui area manager Bernie Rush said.

The amount of rain that fell in the past week varied considerably across the region, from 4.8mm in Wanganui to 11mm at Turakina, 45mm at Waverley and 2.5mm at Ohakune.

The Taihape area got a mere 4mm that did nothing for pasture.

"It's not brown, it's blonde," one farming wife said.

Taihape farmers, especially in the east, are very short of feed. They have had to sell off breeding stock and farm incomes were likely to suffer for the next few years, Farmlands Taihape branch manager Robert Webb said.

Rain is predicted for Taihape and Waiouru during the next 10 days. If it happens and temperatures stay warm, farmers there may get an 11th-hour reprieve.

In South Taranaki, Wanganui, Waimarino and southern Rangitikei pastures are becoming greener, but there is little substance to the growth. Most soils need more moisture.

Wanganui is one of the greener districts, benefiting from 60 to 80mm of rain on March 18.

Marton also had some good downpours then. The feed situation there is improving, Farmlands Marton manager Trevor Williamson said.

He'd heard of rainfalls of 11mm at Turakina and 8mm at Fern Flats on Wednesday.

South Taranaki got less on March 18 and 45mm this week hadn't helped much, Waverley dairy farmer Warwick Lupton said. His 2000 cows were eating mainly peas, oats, maize, silage, grain, cotton seed and palm kernel. They were getting only about 1.5kg of grass a day but were still milking well. However, he was not making any money because feed was costing so much.

When grass growth did take off, he'd have to make sure their digestion coped with the change from hard to soft food.

"It's pretty rugged, but it's all part of the game," he said.

Ohakune had only 2.5mm of rainfall this week, but more showers are expected.

Market gardener Bruce Rollinson said the area was getting greener and there was even a bit of growth, helped by heavy dews.

"It's not a drought breaker, but at least it will turn the tide."

Mr Rollinson can't irrigate because streams are too low and he's hoping Horizons Regional Council will continue to allow a water take for washing vegetables.

Predictions are for near-normal rainfall and warmer-than-usual temperatures during the next two months, which should keep grass growing in warmer coastal areas. It will take time for soil moisture and river levels to recover and there is a risk cool temperatures will halt grass growth.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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