Drought-stricken Canterbury farmers fear funding cuts

Hurunui farmers are facing an uncertain winter, with no significant rainfall since January. Photo...
Hurunui farmers are facing an uncertain winter, with no significant rainfall since January. Photo: supplied by Dan Hodgen
Canterbury farmers fear Government funding cuts could leave them high and dry in the middle of a drought.

Hurunui Mayor Marie Black said she was concerned at the timing of cuts to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), when local farmers were in the midst of an adverse event.

Drought was declared in the district in March and there has been no significant rainfall since January.

‘‘The loss of support through MPI is a concern.

‘‘It is about the messaging for our community at a time of critical need.

‘‘I am concerned about what support is available through MPI for farmers.’’

MPI is slashing more than 300 jobs to cut costs, but it's not known how this could impact support for farmers.

Mrs Black said she was disappointed with the response from Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith, who was questioned about the funding at recent council meeting.

‘‘It would be nice to fund everything,’’ Mr Smith said.

‘‘What we need to be doing is focusing our efforts to fix the problem permanently with irrigation.

‘‘The funding is ending and that is the consequence.’’

He said it was time for the Hurunui Irrigation Project to be completed, to provide irrigation for farmers.

The project was established more than 20 years ago and is now administered by Amuri Irrigation Ltd.

Photo: supplied by Dan Hodgen
Photo: supplied by Dan Hodgen
But Mrs Black said focusing on irrigation did not address the immediate needs.

‘‘Maybe he didn’t understand what we are facing,’’ Mrs Black said.

‘‘Farmers are facing the impact of a lack of rain, on top high interest rates, rising costs and low commodity prices.’’

Farmers were resilient, having survived droughts, earthquakes, weather events and Covid-19 in recent years, but there were limits, she said.

She said the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust has been organising events to support farmers, with more events were planned.

The Hurunui Adverse Events Committee, which supports the rural sector through tough times, has been meeting fortnightly since March to monitor the situation.

Committee chairperson Dan Hodgen said the situation facing farmers was ‘‘as tough as we have seen’’.

‘‘Because we are facing multiple challenges at once, the tools we would normally apply like de-stocking or buying in feed are a lot more costly.’’

The one saving grace was the good early summer conditions, which allowed farmers to produce extra feed supplies, he said. But feed supplies were fast running out.

He was also concerned about funding cuts.

‘‘They are telling us they have got it under control and I guess we have to take their word for it.’’

He called on the Government to make more funding available to the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust and wondered if there could be some help with transport costs.

The Hurunui Adverse Events Committee is hosting Associate Agriculture Minister Nicola Grigg later this month, while Mr Smith is arranging for Parliament’s primary production select committee deputy chairperson Miles Anderson to visit Hurunui next month.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury meat and wool chairperson Sara Black said weather forecasts indicated there was no significant rainfall expected over the next two months.

‘‘It is hard to find any silver linings at the moment.

‘‘If we get rain now, it will be a wet and muddy winter, but if we don’t get rain it will be a difficult spring.’’

The last thing farmers need is a dumping of snow.

Federated Farmers has set up a feed helpline to support farmers.

Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said no frontline staff had been affected by MPI’s staffing changes.

By declaring a medium-scale adverse event in March, Mr McClay said $170,000 of extra funding was made available to rural support trusts in drought affected areas.

‘‘I have asked the Ministry for Primary Industries to work closely with the rural support trusts to continue monitoring the situation and consider what additional support is needed.’’

He expected to make an announcement in the coming week.


By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

■ LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.