James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Tough, but not as bad as 2008

The Herald will follow the life of Waikato farmer Peter Brown as he and hundreds of others battle drought conditions that have struck much of the country

Waikato dairy farmer Peter Brown rates his anxiety levels "about a 7.5" out of 10 as he endures his second drought in just five years.

"It's pretty tough ... I don't expect to have to leave the farm but the ongoing effect is it is going to take about 12 months to get over this."

His 98-hectare farm about 15km northeast of Huntly has rolling hills and normally lush paddocks but both are cracked under the unusual heat.

Small clouds of dust gather under his feet as he walks.

Things might appear bad; he's having to dry off the remainder of his 199 cows on Thursday two months early, he's spent close to $10,000 on pasture silage which added to his own feed reserves will last him about two months, and his farm's bottom line will be down 15 per cent at the end of the year because of the loss in production.

But he says his situation in 2008 was worse and the drought then and the resulting conditions were the worst he had seen in more than 30 years of working his farm.

Still, this summer is not far off - there's been no decent rain since December - and with conditions drier and windier he says more than 100mm of rain is needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal.

"They say it's supposed to rain this weekend," he says, looking optimistically skyward.

And although 2008 was probably tougher, dairy farmers then were cushioned slightly by a decent payout from Fonterra and stock feed, although at inflated prices, was still available from Northland farmers.

"The problem is this year it is more widespread - there's no one else who is a hell of a lot better off than we are."

Mr Brown has access to water on his farm via several bores that help to feed his stock. "I can't imagine what it would be like to get water trucked in - each of these cows drinks about 80 litres of water a day."

The Government has said it could cost the economy $1 billion.

Northland, South Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay have already been declared drought zones. It is expected that by tomorrow the Tararua, Wairarapa, Manawatu-Rangitikei and Taranaki districts will join that list.

- NZ Herald

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