Recharge from rain after dry year

Regular rain has caused frustration for contractors. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Regular rain has caused frustration for contractors. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The recent wet weather has been a mixed bag for North Canterbury’s rural sector.

Summer rain has proved to be a mixed blessing. While the extra moisture has sparked some late-season growth, it has frustrated those making hay.

But last week’s hot weather would have had contractors back working long hours to make hay while the sun shone.

Chris Watts, a contractor from Clarkville, near Kaiapoi, said the Christmas and early January period was "pretty horrible".

"It was really wet over Christmas and then we had a couple of fine days, but now the wind is getting up so we are getting all the elements."

But the rain had raised the spirits of farmers after a relatively dry 2020, amid Covid-19 uncertainty.

The dry spring and wet early summer meant farmers around Swannanoa and Ohoka had produced less baleage, but the rain provided a welcome boost to some of the later-season crops, Mr Watts said.

"I’ve talked to a few people with barley and grain who said it was struggling to get established, but it’s now coming away with that rain."

Stuart Sanders, a contractor from Ohoka near Rangiora, said he enjoyed the milder weather over the Christmas-New Year period and the rain had given the crops just the boost they needed.

While the sun is needed to harvest hay and straw, "a wet day or two creates more growth for later on", he said.

"We are getting towards the end of our run. We tend to get a bit of straw, but we are mostly working with dryland farmers."

Federated Farmers North Canterbury meat and wool chairman Daniel Maxwell said having a wet early summer in North Canterbury was "unusual" and it was a mixed blessing for farmers.

"It’s unusual to have a summer like this and to have so much growth at this time of year, but it’s also prime weather for flystrike and worms, so farmers need to keep those treatments up.

"We are used to farming in a dry environment in January and February, so hopefully people can make the most of it and put a bit more weight on those lambs."

But Mr Maxwell warned it could change very quickly, if the usual northwesterly winds start drying paddocks out again.

"If you ring me in three weeks it will probably be dry again or we will be in flood."

The wet Christmas period has been a cause for optimism for irrigators.

Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd operations manager Jamie Hamilton said the rain had eased the pressure on the Waimakariri River after a dry 2020.

"We started out over the winter, when the Waimakariri district got only half of its average rainfall, so the wells started off at low levels.

"On top of that there was not a lot of snow build-up in the hills, so running into spring we had a dry period."

Climate agency Niwa had predicted that La Nina would be drier for the east coast, but instead the warmer sea weather has resulted in fronts from the Tasman Sea bringing unexpected rain, Mr Hamilton said.

Easterly winds had brought steady rain both on the east coast and in the hills, in contrast to the northwesterlies which could dry out the plains while bringing up-country rain and leaving the rivers prone to flooding.

"We were getting 60 to 80ml of rain through December, which has topped the river up to around 150cumecs, which is a good operating level," Mr Hamilton said.

It meant WIL shareholder-farmers had far fewer days of restrictions to the end of January.

But more rain was need to replenish wells and groundwater supplies after the dry 2020 and Mr Hamilton warned the season was far from over.

"The trouble is, in Canterbury, we are only ever one or two weeks away from a dry period, as it can turn around pretty quick with a northwesterly."

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