Some Canterbury farmers are being forced to get rid of stock at a significant financial cost as record dry conditions look likely to continue.
Niwa meteorologist Ben Knowles said the predominantly dry-land farming district had received only 31 per cent of its average rainfall since January and soil moisture levels were in severe deficits across Banks Peninsula.
Parts of North Canterbury, including Hurunui, were also experiencing extremely dry conditions, he said.
Knowles said Niwa’s three-month outlook, spanning April to June, indicated Canterbury would experience below normal to near normal rainfall. There were no “strong signals” in the short-term of any significant rainfall that might help recharge soils on parched farmland.
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One hundred years of rainfall data from Brockworth farm in Little Akaloa showed Banks Peninsula could be heading for the driest year on record.
Only 44mm of rain was recovered between January and March, far less than the long-term average of 148mm.
The district previously experienced severe drought conditions in 1969 when the farm recorded just 421mm over the entire year, and again in 1988 when only 432mm fell.
The continuing dry conditions were causing headaches for some farmers who were being forced to de-stock – sending animals to graze on other farms or sending them to the meatworks early – and buy in extra supplementary feed at significant cost.
Teddington farmer and former Agriculture Minister Sir David Carter said this was one of the worst autumns he could recall in 40 years of farming.
With no sign of a break in the late summer drought, Carter was being forced to kill his lambs earlier and for lower cost. Lambs were traditionally culled when they reached abut 19 kilograms live weight – making them worth about $123.50 each – but he was having to send them at 17kg, and was earning only $110.50 per lamb.
Carter’s 500-hectare sheep and beef property usually bred 1800 lambs and finished another 1200 that were transferred from his North Canterbury farm, but the lack of grass growth meant he was only able to finish what was bred on farm.
The dry conditions were costing him about $170,000 in lost revenue – not counting the extra feed that would need to be purchased.
Pigeon Bay farmer Ian Richardson said he had de-stocked 300 lambs he would normally take through to winter and had sent 38 cows with their calves to graze in Southland because of the lack of grass on his farm.
Richardson said the area was now drier than the notorious 1988 drought. He had spent an extra $20,000 so far on supplementary feed to support the livestock still on his farm.
Richardson was holding a “Challenging Autumn” get-together on Friday to support local farmers struggling with the conditions.
Speakers would include an agronomist, a vet and an accountant, and the informal meeting would feature children’s entertainment.
He did not think Government intervention was required at this stage.
“The Rural Support Trust is giving moral support at the moment.”
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) rural communities and farming support director Nick Story said they were closely monitoring dry conditions in multiple areas along New Zealand’s east coast.
Farmers were urged not to wait for rain before making key decisions, he said.
MPI had provided funding to help farmers access free feed budgeting planning and had allocated $200,000 to help farmers with independent financial or business advice.