Fri, Feb 23, 2024 8:00 AM

Drought conditions loom


William Woodworth

As hot, dry weather conditions continue in Marlborough, rural residents and farmers need to be ready to deal with drought.

Long term forecasts are predicting continued dry weather across the region.

People need to be ready for drought conditions warns Federated Farmers Marlborough president and Wairau Valley farmer Evan White.

While drought hasn’t officially been announced for the region, farmers should begin planning their responses to the conditions for both stock and agriculture, he says.

Short of a miracle, drought is looming, Evan says.

“We’re not officially in drought yet as that gets officially announced by Government, but it is becoming serious especially in areas without irrigation options.

“Soil moisture levels have been low since July across the region, and South Marlborough especially is parched with creeks running dry around Seddon and Ward, some for the first time.

“Driving down the Wairau it looks good on the surface, but that’s due to vineyards and the existing water infrastructure and storage.They’re not under restrictions for A Class water use yet.

“I believe short of a miracle; Marlborough will be announced under drought conditions shortly.”

Areas of South Marlborough around the Weld Pass, Lower Dashwood, Seddon and Ward are nearing meteorological drought. Photo: Wiliam Woodworth

In January, the region has seen 312 sunshine hours - second only to Nelson.

As dry conditions continue to bite, those affected have been asked to sound the alarm to Government, MPI and MDC.

The Marlborough District Council’s environment and planning committee was told by surface water hydrologist Charlotte Tomlinson on February 1 that it was up to farmers and vineyard owners to reach out and tell them how the dry conditions are affecting them, and where they need assistance.

“Between council or Niwa and the community, we can decide whether the effects are impacting us enough to go to MPI and say that assistance is needed for a certain sector,” she said.

In a pre-emptive action, Federated Farmers Marlborough sent a letter to the Minister of Agriculture earlier this month and are working alongside Marlborough Primary Sector Groups to consider the next action as the local situation worsens.

Evan says that while rain still isn’t on the radar in the short-term forecasts, current conditions will need two or three decent rains over several weeks to make a difference for soil moisture and ground water levels.

“If conditions stay the same the Wairau and Southern Valleys schemes could have access shut in a week or two while the Waihopai and Awatere are already at low levels.

“Farmers are mostly well organised with their stock plans, but we are aware of some people in the region with stock water issues and having to cart water to some places.

“Having spoken to some of the old guard farmers, they believe it’s already a serious drought.”

Dry conditions mean Marlborough farmers are starting to have to make decisions which will impact the bottom line.

“Most are already feeding out; next farmers must start thinking about destocking. Some may have to consider selling or grazing off Capital Stock.

“Usually at this time of year brassica crops are going in the ground, so farmers will have to decide if their sowing schedule will have to change due to dry conditions.

Sheep farmers are especially struggling with low prices.

“From what I understand, vineyards are a bit concerned too due to the time of year just before harvest. While it’s great seeing the grapes coming up, not everyone has the storage dam capacity to operate fully.”

The Weld Pass is nearing drought conditions. 

However, Evan says while the region’s farmers and agriculturists face drought conditions, it is most important to look after the people out there working if times get tough.

“When drought is announced it opens more options for farmers, but they should still be looking into destocking and speaking to bank managers to be precautious.

“Farmers don’t want people to feel sorry for them, but when they’re in the thick of a drought out in dusty dry paddocks, the headspace can get messy so that community and national support is crucial for the agricultural sector, and the people within it to get through”.

Call Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Other contacts for information, help or support:

1737  - Free call or text 1737 any time, 24 hours a day to talk or text with a trained counsellor.

Lifeline  - Phone 0800 543 354 or 09 522 2999 or text HELP (4357) any time

Youthline -  0800 376 633 or free text 234

In an emergency call 111

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