Ironically it drizzled ever so slightly yesterday just as Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy declared that Northland is officially in the grip of its fifth drought in the past eight years.

But like almost every drop of rain to fall on the North since mid-November, the rain was gone - evaporated by the combined forces of sun and wind - almost as soon as it had fallen.

The declaration of a "medium-scale adverse event", on an Okaihau dairy farm owned by Roger and Jane Hutchings, does not mean cash handouts but it does allow extra funding for Rural Support Trusts, which provide technical advice and support for struggling farmers, and greater flexibility on the part of the IRD.

Mr Hutchings welcomed the declaration, saying the green tinge to his pastures - the result of 50mm of rain about two weeks ago - belied a severe soil-moisture deficit with no rain on the horizon for at least the next two weeks.


He expected his production to drop by 25,000kg of milk solids this season. Combined with the cost of extra feed, the drought would cost him up to $200,000.

The current "green drought" was, however, not as severe as the big dry of 2008-09 and he was able to apply the lessons he had learned then.

That included early culling, reduced his herd from the usual 700 to 640; switching to once-a-day milking; and using supplements such as chicory and silage to keep his cattle in good condition in case rain returned.

The official declaration of a drought made little difference to him as an individual farmer but for the industry as a whole it was a good move because it meant extra support would be available.

Mr Guy said the announcement followed a request from local groups, including the Northland Rural Support Trust, and advice from the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Northland Regional Council.

Advice from Niwa was that there was no rain in sight until March.

"What we need is a tropical storm to dump 100mm-plus of rain," he said.

The Minister said farmers did not want handouts but they did want to know that Wellington cared about their livelihoods and did enough to support them.


The long term answer, Mr Guy said, was more water storage and irrigation.

The Government believed an extra 90,000ha of Northland could be irrigated and had spent $200,000 on studies to see how that could be achieved.

The Government was also keeping a close eye on Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and North Canterbury, which were also grappling with the after-effects of an earthquake.