Welcome rains lift spirits in drought-affected Horizons Region

The significant rainfall in parts of the drought-affected North Island in the past couple of weeks has come just in time for many farmers and brought hope that the rural communities may have “dodged a bullet”.

However, the rain was variable with some localised thunderstorms. Some farmers are still experiencing real hardship and feeling more frustrated when they miss rain that seems to fall all around, but not on, their farm.
To the west of the main divide, many areas received 60mm or more rain in early January, but areas along the coast received considerably less and remained worst-affected by the early drought.  In Tararua, up to 100mm fell in the driest areas around Pahiatua, while Dannevirke and Norsewood received 35mm. The NZ Drought Index and NIWA hotspot watch show a huge difference in soil moisture compared to the last weeks.
“In terms of soil moisture, if followed up with regular rainfalls, this could have been the drought-breaker we were all hoping for,” says James Stewart, deputy chair of the Rural Coordination Group. 
“Droughts, however, are slow to build up and slow to recover from. While the impacts of the relentless early summer dry are continuing to affect farmers here, we are hopeful that their drought plans have held them in good stead so they can recover as quickly as possible.”
Due to the early hot dry summer, farmers had been unable to make and save much supplementary feed for later, or have been using their winter feed already. Some dairy farmers have needed to dry off or cull cows early, and bought in extra supplements. Identifying the longer-term impacts and planning for all the possibilities to get through winter will be crucial. 
The cohesive Manawatu-Whanganui (Horizons Region) Rural Coordination Group made up of Rural Support Trusts, Ministry for Primary Industries, Civil Defence Emergency Management and representatives from Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ, and Fonterra, has been meeting regularly to monitor the situation and how farmers in the Region are managing and what help and support can be offered.
“We have resources for farmers who want support managing their feed budgets, understanding their options.  They should call the local Rural Support Trust on 0800 RURAL HELP (0800 787 254) for a chat,” says Mr Stewart.
“Federated Farmers has also activated its Feedline on its website, open to both members and non-members who want to request or offer feed. Plus there will be a range of community events to get people off farm, share ideas about what farmers can do in the current situation, and provide some relief from the daily pressures.”
Some farmers moving stock for grazing have raised concern about the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis. MPI has produced a factsheet (attached) for farmers moving stock and feed so they can prevent further spread of the disease, and has regularly updated information on its website.  Farmers are also welcome to contact MPI directly or talk to their veterinarian.
Minister for Agriculture and Rural Communities Damien O’Connor announced the classification of the drought as a medium-scale event on 23 December. The classification stands for six months and was also extended to the Buller and Grey Districts last week. While providing acknowledgement of the challenges the primary sector has been facing in this particular dry spell, it also means that extra funding can be made available to Rural Support Trusts to help their communities.
Farmers are encouraged to contact their local Rural Support Trust on 0800 RURAL HELP (0800 787 254) or www.rural-support.org.nz to get pointed in the right direction for advice or information, are concerned about a friend, a neighbour, a worker, or just need a private chat. Services are free and confidential.