Farmers start to feel effect of dry conditions

Conditions are very dry in many parts of Otago including in Outram where Aaron Dinsmore (driving...
Conditions are very dry in many parts of Otago including in Outram where Aaron Dinsmore (driving the tractor) and Jackson Cromie worked Brian Flett's farm on Thursday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Farmers in some parts of Otago are starting to feel the "bite" from dry conditions after parts of the region were among the driest in the country last month, Otago Federated Farmers president Michael Lord said.

This comes as Niwa confirmed Otago and Southland were the regions with the lowest rainfall in the country last month, with Dunedin having its driest December since records began at the Musselburgh site in 1918.

Mr Lord, who has a dairy farm on the Taieri, said the dry weather in Otago was "definitely starting to bite", particularly for farmers closer to the coast near Dunedin and in the Taieri. Central Otago and North Otago farmers were less affected after going through a relatively wet spring.

"There's definitely people out there that are getting a bit desperate," he said.

The lack of rain meant winter feed crops planted in December were not growing and there were slightly reduced crops for grain growers.

A substantial amount of rain was needed over a period of less than a week for season to get back on track for the worst hit farmers, he said.

"Any less than about 3in [76mm] probably isn't really going to make any difference."

It was also important that the rain came "sooner rather than later" to make the most of summer growing conditions.

If the dry weather continued some farmers might be forced to buy in feed, graze stock outside the region, or in the worst case scenario sell off stock.

All these options would affect farmer's bottom lines, Mr Lord said.

Agricultural Contracting Otago Ltd owner Ian Brown, who does work on farms around Otago, said conditions were so parched that river beds were beginning to dry up and the ground was beginning to crack in some places.

"The Taieri River is reducing its flow each day we go over it [and] you can see the bottom in most places," Mr Brown said.

The dry weather would likely see demand and prices for both balage and hay crops rise as more farmers seek extra winter feed, he said.

Flett Contracting owner Brian Flett, who has been busy making hay and balage over the last month, said if the dry weather continued the hay season would likely finish as early as two weeks away, when contractors were usually working until April.

This was because grass would not regrow if conditions were too dry, Mr Flett.

Mr Flett said conditions on his own farm near Outram were very dry.

The upside of the dry conditions was that contractors had not missed too many days due to wet weather.

Neville Leslie, who owns a sheep and beef farm in Hillend, near Balclutha, said conditions were the driest he had seen in the 11 years he had farmed there.

Things were not at the "desperate" stage yet, but if the dry weather continued for another fortnight he would probably be forced to sell off some lambs, Mr Leslie said.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Richard Strowger, who owns a sheep and beef farm near Waianakarua said conditions were "pretty reasonable" in North Otago.

This was because farmers in the region were set up for drier conditions, Mr Strowger said.

"But if you are used to having regular rain, then you have an issue, and I think that's what we are seeing at the moment."

Federated Farmers Otago Grain and Seed chairman James Herlihy, who owns a predominantly dairy farm near Ranfurly, said after a good spring for Central Otago farmers, it was "business as usual" in the region.

It had been a dry December, but this was to be expected in the region, he said.


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