The extremely dry start to the year is hitting farmers harder than the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown did, Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty provincial president Darryl Jensen says.
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Rotorua has had its lowest amount of rainfall for January-May in more than a century.
Niwa meteorologist/forecaster Ben Noll said as of May 27, Rotorua has had 207mm of rain so far this year. This is the driest January-May since records began in 1910, and drier than in 2013 when the worst drought in 40 years was recorded.
However, rainfall forecast this weekend could bump this year's dry spell out of that ranking. In 2019, Rotorua had 247.8mm, the driest on record.
Jensen said, although not affected as badly as places such as Auckland and Hawke's Bay, the drought was "certainly an issue in Bay of Plenty", including in Rotorua.
"I won't say the lockdown wasn't an issue but the drought is more of an issue than Covid-19 for the farming community. We were deemed an essential service which we're really grateful for.
"Some farmers in Rotorua are certainly feeling the dry; low on winter feed and hoping for a kind winter and spring."
He said the effects of the drought would be felt well into winter.
"Going forward, there's not the normal amount of feed we'd have in the Bay of Plenty going into a winter so that is a bit of a concern. A lot of pasture covers and supplements have been used over the summer - from a dairy farmer point of view it's to keep the cows milking and make the most of this higher milk price that we have.
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"You get to a point where you have to start planning and thinking about next season and that's what a lot of farmers have done in the last couple of months. It's ongoing, we need to get through to this winter, get to spring, and make sure when new animals hit the ground we can feed them well enough to produce next year's income."
Being more resilient is a key focus for the rural community, Jensen said.
"A lot of farmers are looking at their business and how they can build a resilient business. It's something that farmers are working on and a lot of consultants and organisations are pushing farmers to have a resilient business for when these extremes do come. Climate change is real, it's here and these natural events are going to occur more often."
I won't say the lockdown wasn't an issue but the drought is more of an issue than Covid-19 for the farming community.
With rain forecast for Queen's Birthday weekend, Rotorua farmers are watching the clouds roll in, filled with hope. However, Jensen said he would like to see more done to help farmers make the most of rain in future.
"We're all eagerly awaiting the rainfall we're supposed to get this weekend but as the saying goes 'you can't count your chickens before they hatch'. It sounds like it should be a decent downpour which we're hoping for.
"This is going into the politics a bit but this is where National government and farmers are wanting storage nationwide so when we have these rainfall events, we can harvest or store water and put it aside for when we need it.
"That's something going forward which could help build resilience in rural communities."
Dairy farmer and Federated Farmers Rotorua/Taupō president Colin Guyton said the dry conditions had financial implications for farmers, although those in Rotorua considered themselves lucky not to be facing the extremes.
"The biggest thing is from late January through to about April we didn't grow a lot of grass. In my case I brought in grape marc which is basically what's left after grapes are squashed - about 150-180 tonne of that from Hawke's Bay. Then there's the corn waste which is what's left over from the Heinz canning process. I've fed about 100 tonne of that as well.
"What all that means is our costs have gone up considerably and production was down on what it would normally be.
"Rotorua in general, even though it's been dry, it hasn't been like those other areas which have been hit unbelievably hard. Even though it's been quite tough we really feel for those other areas at the moment."