A dire warning about the impacts of rising temperatures, including the frequency of droughts and wildfires, presents Northland with a golden opportunity to venture into growing more tropical fruits.
The Atmosphere and Climate Report 2020 prepared by the Ministry of Environment highlights the effects of climate change throughout New Zealand in the next four to five decades that could have severe effects on necessities such as water supply and primary industries.
The effects will be more prevalent in areas that are already drier, including the eastern parts of Northland and places in the Far North district that struggled with water supplies during this year's drought.
"Droughts are projected to increase in severity and frequency in many areas due to a combination of rising temperatures and changes to rainfall," the report said.
"Longer periods of drought could affect native forests by causing trees to die, shifting the makeup of a plant community towards more drought-tolerant species, and increasing the risk of wildfires.
"Days with very high or extreme fire danger are projected to increase by an average of 70 per cent by 2040, due to hotter, drier and windier conditions."
Niwa's Seasonal Climate Summary for the three months of June to the end of August released shows winter 2020 was New Zealand's warmest winter on record.
The forecast is for temperatures from September to the end of November will likely be higher than normal, while rainfall will be about average for the next three months.
Tropical Fruit Growers of New Zealand (TFGNZ) founder and chairman Hugh Rose said a higher occurrence of warmer days provided an opportunity to grow fruits like bananas and pineapples in Northland with no shortage of water, suitable soil and adequate shelter.
Bananas, he said, were the easiest crop to grow. They could also be used to clear up dairy effluent and as cattle feed.
He plants bananas, pineapples, papaya, pawpaws, sugarcane and dragon fruit on his property in Maungatapere.
"Tropical fruits have been successfully grown in Northland for over 100 years and places like Ngawha could have a multimillion-dollar industry growing vanilla as the area is blessed with, not only good sunshine, but year-round heat from thermal activity," Rose said.
"Northlanders should think outside the box because there's huge potential to grow tropical fruits and many of those grown here are not grown anywhere else in New Zealand."
TFGNZ has about 130 paid members throughout New Zealand.
The report said some sites that already rarely experienced frost days no longer experience them at all.
Whangārei, which never recorded more than two frost days in a year, has not recorded a temperature below zero since 1994.
The report said climate change could also have cascading effects on wastewater services, road networks, and power and water supplies that would impact on the quality of life and economic activities in an area.
"This may cause people to leave the area, particularly if the impacts become more common and access to insurance decreases. The effects then cascade to put greater pressure on councils – with fewer residents left to pay rates, services for those who remain can be reduced.
"Impacts from droughts can also ripple through regions and affect the environment, the health of a community, and the economy. Areas that rely on rainwater for drinking and other uses like pasture growth can be especially hard-hit."
Massive flooding from a storm in July caused $18 million-plus worth of damage to Northland's infrastructure, with insurers paying out more than $37m.
The storm dumped 220mm of rain on the region in a few hours.
Federated Farmers Northland president John Blackwell has been growing chicory on his farm since 2003 to feed bulls and said the region was lucky in that grass grew well during winter compared with other parts of the country.
"Climate change has been happening gradually over the years and farmers adapt to the changing weather. One of our strengths is the ability to keep pasture during winter.
"Sectors like horticulture where there's a bigger appetite for water could put aquifers under pressure," he said.
Climate scientist James Renwick said being closer to the subtropics meant Northland would be one of the worst-affected areas in New Zealand when the mercury rises over the next half a century.
"Water storage is likely to be a big issue so whenever it rains, catch the rainwater and save it because when it gets dry, it will remain dry for longer.
"In terms of land use, people should think about crops that are less water-intensive. The growth in carbon dioxide is largely driven by cars, not so much by industries," he said.
Renwick said oceans would also warm and acidify.