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South Otago farmers say past summer one of the driest

Author
Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Apr 2022, 10:19am
The Balclutha river lagoon near Naish Park illustrates the continuing dry regional conditions yesterday. (Photo / Nick Brook)
The Balclutha river lagoon near Naish Park illustrates the continuing dry regional conditions yesterday. (Photo / Nick Brook)

South Otago farmers say past summer one of the driest

Author
Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Apr 2022, 10:19am

South Otago farmers are reporting the past summer was one of the driest on record in some parts of the district, following a formal drought declaration last week.

Conserve-water notices and fire bans have been a continual feature in the district this summer, and last week

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor declared the drought across Southland, South Otago and Queenstown-Lakes last Thursday, calling it a "medium-scale adverse event".

Southland has cut irrigation takes in the coastal area as river levels and aquifer levels plunge, while pressure is also on in South Otago.

Otago Federated Farmers president Mark Patterson said the request was based on "solid measurement" from locals including his vice-president, Stephen Crawford, who had records for his farm dating back to 1968.

Crawford said this March was the driest on record on his Clydevale farm.

"Twenty twenty-two's similar to 1973 and 1976. This January was half the usual average; February was at the 54-year average. But at 4.5mm, this March was the driest month on record."

Patterson, who farms sheep and beef near Lawrence, said the effects of Covid-19 on freezing works staff also meant reduced processing, compounding some issues.

"Lack of grass means farmers are already using winter feed, so baleage is at a premium.

"A primary response would be to reduce the mouths to feed, but stock is backing up on farms because the freezer can't process them.

"The dairy cow cull is underway and a lot of southern stock went up to Canterbury, where there's still grass as store stock - but those markets are filling up and there's the potential for a huge bottleneck," Patterson said.

"In my area, we need a couple of good 50mm soakings, a week or 10 days apart, and we need it pretty quick because we're running out of runway before it gets cold in the winter."

Primary and supplementary water takes on the Pomahaka River have been suspended, while the Waitahuna River has slipped below its minimum flow and permits ceased last month.

The Waiwera River dropped below its minimum flow at the beginning of last month and permit takes have also stopped.

The formal adverse weather declaration has unlocked up to $100,000 in Government funding to support farmers and growers until October this year.

The latest Niwa forecast is for continuing warm, dry weather.

The declaration puts a formal structure around the response to the drought. Information evenings and events can be organised, and stock feed co-ordination services can be run.

Meetings will also take place to offer farmers support if they need it.

"Ask for help and advice. We're going into a trying period, but farmers are getting much better at looking out for each other's wellbeing," Patterson said.

- Nick Brook, ODT

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