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Recognition for farmers facing 'extremely difficult conditions'

Published: 10:02AM Friday March 15, 2013 Source: ONE News / Fairfax

Farmers are welcoming the Government's declaration of a North Island wide drought.

It comes off the back of previous drought declarations in Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Hawke's Bay.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy made the announcement this morning on a Kimbolton farm in northern Manawatu.

Guy returned from a trade trip to Latin America last night and said he had been monitoring the situation while he was away.

"This is recognition that farmers across the North Island are facing extremely difficult conditions," he said.

A brief spell of showers is forecast to hit the country this weekend but it is expected to bring little relief.

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A drought declaration offers farmers more flexibility around tax payments, allows them to get the equivalent of an unemployment benefit and means some funds are made available to Rural Trusts to help stressed residents.

This week, farmers in Manawatu, Rangitikei, Taranaki and Wairarapa were anticipating the declaration in their regions but Guy went further, declaring a drought over the entire island.

Guy said today's announcement would mean extra Government funding would be available to Rural Support Trusts.

"These organisations work closely with farmers, providing support and guidance in what is a very tough time.

"I realise these can be stressful times for rural families, and they need to know who to turn to for support.

"There will also be Rural Assistance Payments available from Work and Income, through the Ministry of Social Development."

These are equivalent to the unemployment benefit and are available to those in extreme hardship.

And Guy said he is pleased banks are offering flexible finance options.

'Difficult situation'

Tararua farmer Garth Coleman said this week a drought declaration would give rural communities a boost.

"It's good for our morale that the rest of the country recognises we are in a difficult situation.

"It's depressing looking at your paddocks, which are brown and have no grass, and your stock, wondering what exactly they're eating."

The rural industry was notorious for keeping quiet but Coleman said people were facing tough times.

"They tend to bottle things up, they have decisions that need to be made, and it's the same with anyone really, the pressure is there."

Urban areas have not missed the impact from the long spell of dry weather with water restrictions in place over most of the North Island.

West Coast requests drought declaration

For the first time ever the South Island's normally wet West Coast is requesting declaration of drought from the Government. 
Farmers spoken to by ONE News say they have never experienced a dry spell like it.

Some areas have not had a drop of rain this month, with some farmers resorting to trucking into water to relieve the pressure.

Farmer Hayden Kendrick said he is spending more than $1000 a day on feed to keep his 450 dairy cows milking.

"I've been milking cows for 17 years, and this is the worse I've ever farmed in on the coast," he told ONE News.

"When we get conditions like this, it affects us quite quickly&the grass just can't hang on," he says. 

The drought committee is now hoping to relieve the pressure on parched farms by voting unanimously at a roundtable meeting in Greymouth to ask the Government for a drought declaration.

Drastic measures in Wellington

Although rain is forecast for the capital this weekend, Wellingtonians are being asked to conserve water as the current drought worsens.

The rain is not expected to make a significant dent in the critical water shortage affecting the region where water levels in local rivers are extremely low and dropping.

The rivers provide Wellington's water and officials are aiming for a significant reduction in demand for water so they can extend the number of days that back-up storage will last.

A ban will be in place from tomorrow on all outdoor water use in Wellington, Lower Hutt, Porirua and Upper Hutt until further notice. The ban includes sprinklers, irrigation systems, hoses and watering cans.

The council says the ban is needed to ensure there will be enough water for the essential needs of households, businesses and public services. It says extra restrictions may be needed if water reserves continue to drop.

Businesses which rely on water for their outdoor work are being urged to be prudent with their use of water.

Showers on the way

A brief spell of showers is forecast to hit the country this weekend but it is expected to bring little relief.

The remnants of tropical ex-cyclone Sandra are expected to move over New Zealand from Sunday.

MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said rain would arrive in most places over the weekend, but strong winds would also follow.

He said how much rain fell in drought stricken areas would depend on how the tropical air interacted with the approaching upper trough, and depended on how quickly the systems passed over New Zealand.

Corbett said rain would be followed by lighter showers from Monday in some places. A cooler southerly is expected to spread over the country from later next week but an anti-cyclone will be back in place over New Zealand.

Impact on the economy

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Bill English said recent financial forecasts had looked better than expected, but the drought would bring this back.

"Generally the outlook was looking a bit more positive than expected and the drought will peg it back, but we're not quite sure how far."

Treasury is watching closely the impact of the drought as it prepares for the May 16 Budget, but English does not expect the impact to be "dramatic".

He did not believe it would derail the Government's target of reaching a budget surplus by 2014-15.

The Government has signalled that this year's Budget could include $800 million of new spending, a figure English did not expect to be reduced.