Govt extends drought relief to Otago, Canterbury farmers

Drought conditions are now widespread in the South Island. Photo: ODT files
Drought conditions are now widespread in the South Island. Photo: ODT files
The government has extended support for farmers and growers struggling with drought conditions across more of the South Island.

A medium-scale adverse event has now been classified in Canterbury and Otago - after being declared in Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough last Thursday.

The announcement came with a $70,000 boost for the Rural Support Trusts in North, Mid, and South Canterbury and Otago to help them facilitate community and one-on-one support for affected farmers and growers.

Sheep and beef farmer Hugh Cameron runs more than 25,000 livestock at Otematata Station in the Waitaki Valley.

He said the area's probably the driest he's seen it since the 1980s.

"Very, very dry up where we are in the Waitaki Valley, perhaps not unprecedented, but certainly the last three weeks or so have started to bite with a lot of the rivers and creeks starting to drop away."

He said the area's only had about three or four millimetres of rainfall for quite some time, some thunderstorms, and last week's sprinkling of snow melt did not provide much relief.

While there was some irrigation available, it was compromised due to minimum flows on the river - which can impact the livestock, he said.

"In this sort of weather, and our sort of traditional high country system, the lambs struggle if they haven't got that green feed when they're weaned."

Cameron said the medium-scale adverse event classification would likely help struggling farmers.

"I'm sure it's not a bad idea, certainly travelling around some of the other areas in smaller properties that don't necessarily have the scope or whatever. Yeah, they'll be finding it pretty hard, I would think.

"If we were to get rain in the next month or so, then we'd be OK, but if we don't, things won't be that great going into winter."

Ministers unlock further supports

Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said the medium-scale adverse event classification will help those affected by the dry conditions by unlocking further supports, including tax relief, and enables the Ministry for Social Development to consider Rural Assistance Payments.

"I have made this decision to unlock additional support for farmers and growers across the Canterbury and Otago regions as the intense dry spell persists and looks unlikely to improve in the short-term," McClay said.

"I met with farmers in South Marlborough earlier this week to see conditions on the ground first-hand. They told me the classification makes a difference."

It comes after Rural Communities Minister Mark Patterson announced $20,000 for the Rural Support Trust for the Top of the South last month after visiting the area.

Patterson said conditions have been challenging for farmers and growers.

"The dry conditions have affected some fodder crop yields and farmers have already been feeding out winter supplementary feed to livestock," he said.

"Rain over the weekend in parts of Canterbury and Otago failed to deliver any significant relief to parched soils.

"The Ministry for Primary Industries has been working with sector groups, regional bodies, and farmers to prepare for El Niño since its arrival last year, and continue to monitor the situation to determine where additional support is needed."

Farmers and growers who require support are encouraged to contact their local Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254.