Farmers happy with burst of rain

While many have been cursing all the rain lately, parched North Otago farmers have been revelling in it.

Federated Farmers North Otago president Otto Dogterom said life was looking "pretty bleak" for farmers at the end of May, but after receiving up to 168% of their normal June rainfall, their outlook had changed considerably.

"We’ve had some good rain and the grass is growing again.

"Climate-wise, things are looking up.

"And it bodes well for spring growth — it gives us a bit more hope and confidence."

On the back of a very dry summer, the dryness continued into autumn (March, April and May) when Niwa statistics showed Oamaru received just 102mm of rain (55% of normal for the 3-month period), and Windsor had 62mm (53% of normal).

It resulted in substantial soil moisture deficits by the end of May — between 30mm and 50mm below normal.

The conditions were so dry, the Ministry of Primary Industries classified it as a medium-scale adverse event.

And by mid-May, the dry conditions looked set to continue for months.

The situation prompted many farmers to de-stock their properties, and they spent every spare dollar on winter feed to keep the remaining stock alive over the cold season.

But the month of June threw them an unexpected life-saver in the form of some consistent rain.

Niwa National Climate Centre forecasting principal scientist Chris Brandolino said Oamaru received 72mm of rain during June — 168% of normal.

Ranfurly also recorded 35mm (106% of normal), Windsor had 44mm (126% of normal) and Tara Hills received 42mm (109% of normal).

Mr Brandolino said much of July would have low rainfall again for North Otago, but it was possible there would be some more heavy rain events later in the month.

The recent rainfall was well timed, he said.

"At this time of year, we’re not taking away as much moisture from the ground.

"The days are short, the sun’s not as strong, so the moisture leaving the ground is not nearly as impressive as it would be in the warm season.

"That may save our bacon," Mr Brandolino said.

"This is a very important time of the year because it’s the time when we have the groundwater recharge, where basically from mid-spring, that’s the new growing season.

"So we want to replenish that water, so that when we walk into the new growing season, we’re not starting off behind the 8-ball."

However, Mr Brandolino said farmers were not out of the woods just yet.

"If rain comes after a long dry period, that may not be enough to overcome the dryness.

"Just like if you’re running a business and you have six months of deficit, you’re going to have to off-set that somehow.

"The best way to do that is to have above-normal profits for a period of time."

Niwa’s 3-month outlook showed rainfall in North Otago was likely to be near normal, he said.