While the North Island has been declared to be in drought, unlocking $2 million in support, Ruapehu/Whanganui Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Lyn Neeson says "this might be our new norm".
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor declared all of the North Island, the Chatham Islands and parts of the South Island officially in drought on March 12. The declaration makes $2 million available to support farmers, until June 2021.
Whanganui and Ruapehu have both had a bit of rain across the last six weeks - but it has been scattered and not nearly enough, Lyn Neeson said.
Neeson is not sure "drought" is the word we should be using.
There have been a lot of dry summers and autumns in the last 10 years. The worst was in 2011, when South Taranaki, Ruapehu, Rangitīkei and Whanganui were all in severe drought.
"It's a hard thing, calling it a drought, mainly because this might be our new norm and if we describe it as a drought we might be less likely to make long-term decisions," she said.
With less rain, farmed animals run short of feed and water. Long-term changes can prevent that.
"We are encouraging people to put in crops which you can feed lambs on, or reticulate water to flatter paddocks, or have more resilient dam storage - bigger dams," Neeson said.
She hasn't heard of people without water for their animals, but said it has been difficult getting animals off the farm and into meatworks because of the slowdown of orders from China, due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
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It is dry, she said, and the little bits of rain have been a brief respite, with streams running and a green tinge appearing. Those signs are deceptive, because water tables are low and soil moisture has not built up.
Ruapehu was lucky, with good rain in December and early January. Some farmers have two or three cuts of hay stored for the future.
If there is no significant rain by the end of March winter feed will be scarce.
In Whanganui the coastal strip got most of the good February rain, Wanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone said. He's glad O'Connor has declared a drought, and said the money freed up would not be "handouts for farmers".
It will be used in packages tailored to the regions, to form a feed working group, to pay drought co-ordinators and to provide advice. There will be tax relief, help from Work and Income and funding for support trusts.
Neeson said people were also very busy keeping up with water and feed so it might be hard for them to find the time.
"We are looking at having some low key local events where people can just come and have lunch and talk, with no pressure."
In the bigger picture, agriculture and manufacturing are major earners for the Whanganui District.
Drought will affect both of them, Whanganui and Partners agribusiness strategic lead Colleen Sheldon said.
"It is too early to predict the size or longevity of the economic impact, as the drought is coupled with disruption to international supply chains and markets from Covid-19," she said.