Up to 400 of the nearly 1000 farms in Northland will run out of animal feed by mid this month and arrangements are being made to barge supplies from the South Island.
During a recent survey by DairyNZ, two fifths of farmers said they had feed until mid March while three fifths said they would run out by the end of the month.
The Northland Rural Support Trust and Federated Farmers have asked the Ministry for Primary Industries to underwrite some of the transportation costs of bringing barley, hay, barley straw, and maize from Canterbury and parts of Waikato.
And the Government will consider the request, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said in Northland yesterday.
Northland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Julie Jonker said, "We are moving into a territory that we haven't been before with this drought which has brought very dry conditions much earlier than usual.
"Farmers have planned for the dry conditions and made sure they have enough feed but it's getting to a point where there's no rain on the horizon and some farmers are starting to use winter stock."
Some farmers, she said, were not able to afford palm kernel so they needed to get in early and talk to their banks on how to get through over the next two to four weeks.
Jonker said there was good quality barley straw and hay, maize in the lower North Island, and grain in the South Island and it was a matter of affordability.
She said the Government may be able to underwrite some transportation costs, even the cost of bringing an extra shipment of palm kernel.
Jonker said co-ordination was also important so any feed brought up was easily accessible.
"Farmers, when they are already stressed, don't have to go and source where they can get feed. We've got a whole heap of buy-in from different places where if we can bring the feed up we've got a place to store it so people can just contact the feedline and buy it.
"We are working with the local carrier to find out if they'd be the point of contact because you don't want people ringing different numbers."
Murray Jagger, a dairy farmer at Whangārei Heads, bought 200sq bales of silage from Auckland in the past few weeks because the silage and turnips he grew on his farm would run out by the end of this week.
He is milking 480 cows once a day rather than the usual 640.
Jagger said it was all about farmers making timely decisions rather than leaving it until late.
"If you leave it till you need it, it will be too late. Farmers have got to be proactive and think weeks out. Apart from feed, water supply is running low and that's what's putting pressure on us."
Jagger said the silage he bought from Auckland would get him through until March 20.
Northland Federated Farmers president John Blackwell said in the first instance, farmers should contact their supply source such as Farmlands early because there was limited feed outside the region.
"A barge is quite a cheap way of bringing the feed up and it can carry 1000 tonnes at a time and the cost will be about $18 for a big bale so farmers need to get in early because it takes time to get up here."
Blackwell said feed was also available in Waikato but it was expensive due to demand and the fact that region was also reeling from the drought.
He said O'Connor, who has been supportive of Northland's plight, would have final say on any request to underwrite cost.
"There will be significant problems, not just with supplementary feed but water as well, if the drought goes past five weeks," he said.
O'Connor said the Government would look at the Northland farmers' request for help with the feed movement.
''We will look at anything they put to us, the doors are open.''
O'Connor said the needs of individual farms across Northland are varied depending on location and that ensuring local communities have access to drinking water is crucial.
The minister was speaking at Lake Omapere, north of Kaikohe yesterday, where an emergency pipeline is being put in to maintain Kaikohe's water supply.
There he met with staff from Civil Defence and Fire and Emergency NZ to thank them for their efforts during the drought and Northland's water crisis. O'Connor also visited the Northland Field Days.