Welcome rain has lifted the spirits of farmers in drought-affected areas of our region.

The significant rainfall in parts of the drought-affected North Island in the past couple of weeks has come just in time for many farmers and brought hope rural communities may have "dodged a bullet".

However, the rain has been variable with some localised thunderstorms and some areas receiving very little.

"Some farmers are still experiencing real hardship and feeling more frustrated when they miss rain that seems to fall all around, but not on, their farm," James Stewart, deputy chairman of the Manawatu-Whanganui Rural Co-ordination Group, said.


In southern Tararua, Eketahuna was experiencing a big dry with dairy farmer and Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis telling the Dannevirke News it had been the driest she'd seen the area.

"But during the heavy downpour a couple of weeks ago we had 153mm on our farm. That was enough to start turning the farm from brown to green," she said.

In Tararua, up to 100mm fell in the driest areas around Pahiatua, while Dannevirke and Norsewood received 35mm, with the New Zealand Drought Index and Niwa hotspot watch showing a huge difference in soil moisture compared to the last weeks.

On Tuesday, while it was dry, hot and sizzling in Dannevirke, motorists reported rain falling at Oringi, just south of the town.

Early Thursday morning rain had arrived in Dannevirke and in Norsewood it had started pattering down before midnight, and by 6am 7mm had fallen, bringing January's total to 77mm.

"Despite that being quite a reasonable amount - with more slowly arriving - - it doesn't feel wet, the whole month has felt dry, maybe because the heat doesn't seem to drop with any rain. We're getting moderate grass growth however, even if we can't sleep," weather-watcher Lyn McConchie said.

Meanwhile Mr Stewart said in terms of soil moisture if the first big rainfall is followed with regular falls, it could be the drought-breaker we are all hoping for.

"Droughts, however, are slow to build up and slow to recover from," he said. "While the impacts of the relentless early summer dry are continuing to affect farmers here, we are hopeful their drought plans have held them in good stead so they can recover as quickly as possible."

Last Saturday Dannevirke and other areas of Tararua benefited from thunderstorms which dumped 23mm on Norsewood, bringing the month's rainfall to 67mm so far.

Due to the early hot, dry summer, farmers had been unable to make and save much supplementary feed for later, or have been using their winter feed already. Some dairy farmers have needed to dry off or cull cows early, and bought in extra supplements. Identifying the longer-term impacts and planning for all the possibilities to get through winter will be crucial.

At the Collis' Eketahuna dairy farm the herd was reduced by 10 per cent and despite the recent rain, grazing rotations are still lengthy to allow pasture growth to build up.

"Federated Farmers has also activated its Feedline on its website, open to both members and non-members who want to request or offer feed. Plus there will be a range of community events to get people off farm, share ideas about what farmers can do in the current situation, and provide some relief from the daily pressures," Mr Stewart said.

Meanwhile, some farmers moving stock for grazing have raised concern about the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis. MPI has produced a factsheet for farmers moving stock and feed so they can prevent further spread of the disease, and has regularly updated information on its website. Farmers are also welcome to contact MPI directly or talk to their veterinarian.

Farmers are encouraged to contact their local Rural Support Trust on 0800 RURAL HELP (0800 787 254) or www.rural-support.org.nz to get pointed in the right direction for advice or information, or if they are concerned about a friend, a neighbour, a worker, or just need a private chat. Services are free and confidential.

Protecting your farm from Mycoplasma bovis in drought-affected areas:
With a number of farms suffering drought, there is concern about the movement of animals for grazing or getting in supplementary feed from other regions.

Mycoplasma bovis has been discovered in a small number of farms in Southland, North Otago, North and South Canterbury and Hawke's Bay.

You can keep up to date by checking information for farmers on the MPI webpages: http://www.mpi.govt.nz/protection-and-response/responding/alerts/mycoplasma-bovis/ (this includes links to good biosecurity hygiene practice, DairyNZ resources, Beef + Lamb NZ resources and contact points for questions).

When bringing in supplementary feed:

* There is no risk of Mycoplasma bovis infection from bringing in hay or baleage from uninfected farms.
* Confirm the feed is coming from a farm under a Notice of Direction or a Restricted Place Notice that it meets any conditions on the Notice.
* Vehicles coming onto your farm should be confined to the tanker track or main access track. Use your own vehicles to transport feed around your farm.
* Keep farm access tracks as clean zones by not moving stock across them, or allowing stock to graze in the track area.
When moving animals for temporary grazing:
* Check the off-farm grazing property's biosecurity health status. All Mycoplasma bovis infected properties are under Restricted Place Notices under the Biosecurity Act, restricting the movement of stock and equipment on and off those farms to contain the disease.
* Ensure he grazing property has good biosecurity measures in place, such as preventing your stock from having nose-to-nose contact with stock on the farm or neighbouring properties.
* When returning stock to your property, follow good farm hygiene procedures to reduce the risk of disease entering your farm.
* Treat any returning animals in the same way as new purchases.
* Keep your NAIT and other animal movement records up to date, including Animal Status Declaration (ASD forms) – this is a legal requirement in any case but enables tracing of disease.

Rainfall variation in our district:

2012: Upper Norsewood 1401mm - Tamaki River Rd, south west of Dannevirke, 1109mm.
2013: Upper Norsewood 1280mm - Tamaki River Rd 1344mn.
2014: Upper Norsewood 1249mm - Tamaki River Rd 1166mm.
2015: Upper Norsewood 1207mm - Tamaki River Rd 1308mm.
2016: Upper Norsewood 1198mm - Tamaki River Rd 1369mm.
2017: Upper Norsewood 1428mm - Tamaki River Rd 1556mm.
Average: Upper Norsewood 1293mm - Tamaki River Rd 1308mm

Weather affecting dairy production:

* In the period June 1 to December 31, 2017 Fonterra's North Island milk production reached 102 million kilograms - 8 per cent behind the same period in 2016. Dry, hot weather caused the decrease.
* Recent rain this month will help, but further rain is needed to see any recovery in production in the central districts, Waikato and Taranaki.
* In December Fonterra lowered its forecasted milk collection from 1525 million kilograms nationally to 1480m kg - a 3 per cent decrease on last season's collection of 1526m kg.