A terrible season for West Coast dairy farmers with persistent rain, little sunshine and depressed prices is proving to be "the perfect storm" for farmers, many of whom are stressed and anxious.

Rotomanu farmer Katie Milne has likened it to "a reverse drought" with poor sunshine hours severely reducing grass growth, which had been poor since last autumn.

Some of her neighbours at Rotomanu, in the lee of the Southern Alps, had recorded over 6m of rain this summer when normally they might get 4m.

"Basically it's been raining since last April. Production is down all over and people are waiting for it to finish," Milne said.


After two and a half months of a wet, cool summer, the weather on the West Coast turned the corner just this week with the arrival of warmer weather.

However, that may have come too late on the farm.

Hokitika chartered accountant Peter Cuff, who deals extensively with farmers, said the wet had been affecting farmers' mental health.

Although the payout had improved slightly that had been offset by production lost due to the wet conditions.

"It's been getting to the point where it's too late to fix it this season," Cuff said.

He urged downhearted farmers to not judge the industry by one or two seasons, as the weather and payouts were cyclical.

"It's a long-term game."

Milne said some farmers had no choice because they needed the milk production to keep debt at bay.


"You can't run your business at a half capacity all the time waiting for a year when it's all better," she said.

Coming on top of a couple of tough payout years, anxiety levels were high.

"Compared to other provinces, we were down before we started ... if nothing else, thank goodness it wasn't last season, when we had a terribly low payout."

She urged stressed farmers to take an hour or two off and talk to each other to share their daily burden.

Whataroa dairy farmer Dave Nolan called it "the worst" season in at least 20 years.

"It's really having an effect on people, the morale. People are getting pretty down to it, especially with the payout last year. It's a perfect storm," Nolan said.


Milk production was down due to marginal pasture conditions and the lack of sunshine was also affecting animal well-being.

Many farmers had been milking once a day or every 16 hours since before Christmas - a time when milk production would ordinarily near its peak.

He estimated production in South Westland was down on average between 15 and 20 per cent.

Because of the ongoing wet weather, many had also missed the opportunity to cut silage before Christmas and would struggle to get their usual second cut to stock up for winter feed.

"There's still a hell of a lot of silage that should have been taken off in December," Nolan said.

Farmers were just trying to stay afloat financially given last season's payout and cut in milk production.


"People have got to keep farming and keep spending and have some production to satisfy the banks. The general feeling around is that people have to do what they have to do - it's pretty tough."

Karamea dairy farmer and Federated Farmers West Coast chairman Peter Langford said those on lighter sandy soils in the Karamea area were coping a little better.

"It's not really going well for anybody," Langford said.

His milk production was down about 12 per cent overall and had been milking once a day since December.

Continual rain did not translate into decent grass and lack of sun was compromising animal health.

"There's no decent energy in the grass. Pregnancy tests are not the flashest," Langford said.


Federated Farmers dairy section chairwoman Renee Rooney, of Rotomanu, characterised the season as "pretty cr*p".

Most were farming to the conditions given the "invariably wet and waterlogged" ground conditions.

- Geymouth Star