REBECCA HARPER
The government has promised to keep a close eye on Hawke's Bay farmers, as they struggle to deal with a drought on the eve of what looks to be a long and difficult winter.
Minister of Agriculture Jim Anderton touched down on Hawke's Bay soil this morning for a whirlwind tour of the region.
"It's a bit of a tough time for this area. It's going to be serious and we need to keep a close watch on things," Mr Anderton said.
He believed all the appropriate agencies to cope with the situation were lined up, and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) officials were working with local people.
"The welfare of farmers, stock, and their families is important. These are traumatic events, and while it might not be as spectacular as a flood, it wears people down because it goes on for such a long time," he said.
Government help would mainly be facilitated by the East Coast Rural Support Trust and Hawke's Bay Primary Producers' Adverse Events Trust. Mr Anderton said both were "well organised" for such an event and the government would assist with resources.
The lack of feed was also high on his priority list. In response to recent appeals to the Inland Revenue Department to relax its rules for farmers suffering from hardship due to the drought, Mr Anderton said farmers selling capital stock would be able to put funds into an equalisation account, where it would be held until farmers were ready to re-stock.
People needed to realise all agencies were sympathetic to the plight of Bay farmers.
"It's a compassionate and common-sense approach. This is not a one off - we will be keeping a close eye on the situation, as we have a difficult few months ahead for everybody," Mr Anderton said.
His helicopter tour began with a trip to the farm of Central Hawke's Bay farmers Steve and Jane Wyn-Harris at Hatuma.
He planned to view the surrounding district and stock, looking at the impact of the drought from a farmer's perspective.
Roy Fraser from PGG Wrightson Consulting, a veterinarian, and representatives from Meat and Wool New Zealand were on hand to discuss likely scenarios, industry initiatives to help mitigate risks, and government responses that could help farmers.
A visit to the Holt family farm at Bay View was to be followed by a meeting with Federated Farmers and Hawke's Bay Regional Council representatives.
Then a final meeting was planned with Labour MP Rick Barker, Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, rural bank representatives, and trustees of the Hawke's Bay Primary Producers' Adverse Events Trust to discuss how local trust funding could be put to use.