The extremely dry start to the year is hitting farmers harder than the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown did, Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty provincial president Darryl Jensen says.
Based on readings at Tauranga Airport, this year's rainfall is the lowest it has been in more than 100 years.
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According to Niwa meteorologist/forecaster Ben Noll, rainfall recorded at Tauranga Airport so far this year is the lowest for January-May since records began in 1910, at just 129.6mm until May 27. He said some rain is expected today and tomorrow .
Last year, rainfall for the same period was the second-lowest on record at 226.8mm. During the 2013 drought, which Noll said at the time was the worst in 40 years, there was 458mm of rain from January-May recorded at Tauranga Airport.
Jensen said, while not affected as badly as places such as Auckland and Hawke's Bay, the drought was "certainly an issue in Bay of Plenty". Coastal areas such as Katikati, Pāpāmoa and Whakatāne were nearing extreme drought.
"I won't say the lockdown wasn't an issue but the drought is more of an issue than Covid-19 for the farming community.
"We do still need some real substantial rain to fill up underground aquifers and that sort of thing.
"We've got issues with a very low water table. The streams have a little bit of water in them but not a lot. We're lucky. For a lot, that's not their only water source so they've been able to get by."
He said the effects of the drought would be felt well into winter.
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"Going forward, there's not the normal amount of feed we'd have in the Bay of Plenty going into a winter so that is a bit of a concern.
"You get to a point where you have to start planning and thinking about next season and that's what a lot of farmers have done in the last couple of months. It's ongoing, we need to get through to this winter, get to spring, and make sure when new animals hit the ground we can feed them well enough to produce next year's income."
Being more resilient is a key focus for the rural community, Jensen said.
"A lot of farmers are looking at their business and how they can build a resilient business. It's something that farmers are working on and a lot of consultants and organisations are pushing farmers to have a resilient business for when these extremes do come. Climate change is real, it's here and these natural events are going to occur more often."
Katikati sheep and beef farmer Rick Burke said during extreme weather events all farmers could do was focus on what they could control.
"The biggest thing for farmers, when things are out of the norm, is to try to get a handle on what you have control of yourself, what levers you can pull to navigate a pathway through those challenges.
"We're trying to focus on that. We've been sending dairy grazers home earlier than usual and ensuring we've done our feed budget to get through the winter."
He said with water levels low, farmers in his area were working together to get by and that teamwork was also valuable for their mental health.
"If you keep things in isolation and bottle things up, that's when you come under pressure. Mental health is a big issue so talking and sharing ideas - having a plan is a big one."
Post-harvest service provider for New Zealand kiwifruit and avocado growers Apata's managing director, Stuart Wilson, said the effects of the drought were variable in different areas.
"Different regions have coped better or worse. What we are noticing is a stark difference in those orchards who have access to water and are well sprinklered and irrigated. Those who don't have a sprinkler system, we've noticed a real impact on the fruit sizing in particular.
"The smaller the fruit size, the less trays you produce. So there is an impact, it's probably hit the green variety kiwifruit a lot more than the gold but, overall, relative to how dry it is, it's remarkable how resilient those vines are."
Wilson said the green kiwifruit were impacted more because it was born a month later than the gold, meaning the drought-affected its "growth opportunity" more than the green.
"We've had some rain recently which was a good starter and we've got a decent dollop coming which will have no impact on this season's crop but in terms of rebuilding the structure of the soil and so forth it will be very useful."
Noll said the drought was caused by several factors including persistent, blocking high pressure systems in the northern Tasman Sea and north of the North Island, suppressing rain-bearing weather systems to the south.
There was also a lack of moist, northerly air flows and a persistently positive Southern Annular Mode early in the year which was associated with more tranquil weather in the New Zealand region.
"The current three-month period is expected to have either below normal or near-normal rainfall across the northern North Island, including the Bay of Plenty.
"Tauranga is not alone: Whangārei, Auckland, Whitianga, Hamilton, Whakatāne, Hastings, and Marlborough have also experienced their driest start to a year on record."