Farmers could feel effects of Northland drought for 12 months

The AM Show 12/02/2020

Kaipara's mayor says farmers could feel the economic effects of drought conditions in Northland for up to a year.

The region has faced bone-dry conditions for months now, with Kaipara Mayor Jason Smith saying the land is "absolutely baking".

"We're in a really serious place," Smith told The AM Show on Wednesday.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor on Tuesday declared a drought in Northland after concluding the situation had worsened to a point where it was "beyond the rural community's ability to cope".

"This is recognition that the extreme and prolonged nature of this dry spell is taking its toll on our farmers and growers and additional support is needed," O'Connor said.

Although farmers routinely plan for dry conditions in January and February, a lack of rain since November compounded with less rainfall than normal all through 2019 has left them particularly vulnerable. And with little rain forecast for the next couple of weeks, there is no respite in sight.

Smith says farmers were long prepared for the situation, but there is only so much that can be done. 

The signals were early in last spring that we were headed into a drought.

"The underground aquafers are the lowest they've been in decades and, in fact, it turns out that the drought that we're in right now is the second-worst since 1914," Smith said. "So the farmers were watching that really dry, dry winter that we had last year."

The official drought announcement unlocked $80,000 in Government support, but Smith says that won't go directly to farmers.

"The classification of a drought doesn't mean that farmers get handouts - that's not what the system does. It's really hard."

The funding will be used for things like paying income benefits for staff who may be temporarily laid off due to the drought, Smith said. 

"If this drought continues - and right now we're already four months early for the state of the soil moisture deficit - if this continues then we're in a situation where we have a very dry winter ahead and then the effects of this drought will actually last at an income level [for] nine months to 12 months."

The AM Show / Newshub reporter James Fyfe