Conserve water notices and fire bans have been a constant feature throughout Clutha all summer, and last week meetings of Otago and Southland Federated Farmers resulted in a request for formal recognition of the drought conditions, which was validated by the declaration of a ‘‘medium›scale adverse event’’ by Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor on Friday.
President of Otago Federated Farmers (FF) Mark Patterson said the request was based on solid evidence gathered by local people, including Otago FF vice› president Stephen Crawford, who had records dating back to 1968.
‘‘2022 is 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,’’ Mr Crawford said, quoting records specific to his property in the Clydevale area.
‘‘Otago was very dry last autumn but this is worse,’’ Mr Patterson, a sheep and beef farmer near Lawrence said.
Making things worse was the effects of Covid›19 on freezing works staff. Meat companies were processing less stock than usual.
‘‘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 under way 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,’’ Mr Patterson said
‘‘In my area we need a couple of good 50ml 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.’’
The formal adverse weather declaration has unlocked up to $100,000 in Government funding to support farmers and growers until October 2022, while the latest Niwa figures forecast continuing warm, dry weather.
‘‘The declaration puts a formal structure around a response, so we can organise information evenings and events, run a feed co›ordination service and provide somewhere farmers can go if they need support.
‘‘We’re going into a trying period but farmers are getting much better at looking out for each other’s wellbeing.
‘‘That’s very important because farming can be quite a solitary experience and when pressure comes on there’s a natural tendency to withdraw, and farmers can be pretty vulnerable to that.
‘‘So it’s a matter of encouraging them to keep talking to mates and neighbours, because we’re all going to get through this together,’’ Mr Patterson said.