Canterbury dry spell looks likely to continue

Canterbury farmers are being advised to prepare for the worst as dry conditions continue to bite.

Support is available, but farmers need to be proactive in seeking advice and ensuring they have plenty of feed on hand heading into winter, Canterbury Rural Advisory Group chairman Winton Dalley said.

"We are trying not panic anybody, but we are being proactive in getting reminders out to people of what they can do and what they should do.

"The key message is to be prepared, to get advice and to make sure you’ve got plenty of feed on hand.

"Most of the region has had a reasonably good growing season so there is feed around, but some areas don’t have surpluses, so identify your feed sources now."

The region north of the Rakaia river was already subject to a large-scale drought classification until June 30, but support was also available for farmers south of the Rakaia River.

The advisory group was collaborating with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), rural support trusts, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ to monitor the dry conditions across Canterbury and offer support to farmers, Mr Dalley said.

The group has increased its monthly conference call meetings to fortnightly as the situation deteriorates.

Conversations were continuing to determine whether the drought declaration would be extended beyond June 30 and whether the whole of Canterbury would be included, Mr Dalley said.

"It definitely needs to be extended beyond June. There was some rain on Banks Peninsula, but not enough to change things.

"Whether the geography needs to be extended further is a separate conversation, but we can assure people that all the appropriate parties are being proactive in monitoring the situation daily and having the conversations with the appropriate ministries."

Federated Farmers North Canterbury meat and wool chairman Daniel Maxwell said time was running out to break the drought on his Cheviot farm before winter.

"We’ve got a month left to get pasture covers up for the winter. If we could get a decent rain now we’ve got time to get some growth before winter sets in."

But with no rain in sight, Mr Maxwell was already feeding out more supplements, has sold his store lambs and some calves, and made the decision not to mate his ewe hoggets this year, while his ewes were being fed sheep nuts.

"We’re at the point where we’ve got to start asking ‘what are we going to do with the ewes over winter if it doesn’t rain?’

"Most farmers have some trigger points and dates, where they will take action to mitigate the conditions, so the key thing is to have a plan."

The drought declaration meant North Canterbury farmers could seek extra assistance through the Ministry of Social Development, including the Emergency Benefit, Special Needs Grant and Rural Assistance Payments.

Tax relief was available on a case-by-case basis through the Inland Revenue.

A free feed planning and co-ordination service was being offered by MPI to assist farmers with developing feed budgets and connecting with available sources of supplement, such as silage and hay.

Farmers impacted by the dry conditions could receive up to $6000 to seek independent financial or business advice through the government’s Farm Business Advice Support Fund, which was managed by the rural support trusts.

A farm debt mediation scheme was also available through MPI to help farmers and growers and their creditors work through debt issues.

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