A&F Bulletin - Preparation for El Nino

Monday, September 21, 2015

Weather experts say this year's El Nino weather pattern is shaping up to be one of the strongest on record and, for our region, that means an elevated risk of drought.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research say these challenging El Nino weather patterns will remain until March 2016.

Our farmers and crop growers will be staring down the barrel of another dry summer, hot on the heels of last season’s medium-scale drought that affected much of the South Island’s east coast.

Of course, the east coast is no stranger to dry conditions - the previous three strongest El Ninos in 1972/73, 1982/83 and 1997/98 all resulted in droughts, so there are plenty of experienced farmers out there.

Decisions such as reducing stock numbers and tightening up spending are not taken lightly, but farmers have adapted their systems to deal with drought as best they can.
They manage incredibly well in tough times, but preparation is key, through mitigation and careful management.

I encourage people to seek help from the support services available and to look out for one another where possible. Talk to your neighbours, to farm consultants, meet with your bank and accountant to access assistance and flexibility with tax obligations.

The Government will be keeping a close eye on conditions this summer and providing assistance as necessary: Earlier this year, Primary Industries minister Nathan Guy recognised the very difficult conditions farmers were dealing with and announced additional Government support for those affected by drought, including for Rural Support Trusts. This helped the Trust with more intensive local activities, including individual visits and community events.

Support also included Rural Assistance payments, which are available to those facing extreme hardship.

For many of us, the droughts of 1997/1998, which rolled into a second drought in 2001, will still be clearly etched into our memories. Some long timers will also recall the severe dry of 1973.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research estimated the 1990s drought resulted in a loss of $407 million to our national GDP.

Economics aside, it also had huge impact on our farmers and rural communities who suffered major stress, worry and hardship.

The drought severely tested our water supplies and farmers were forced to truck in water for stock, just as grape growers did last summer and during the parched season of 2001.

The flipside of all this is that our farmers and grape growers are now more prepared and resilient than ever. They have been there before and they know they will be again.

It remains to be seen how this summer pans out and how quickly farmers can recover.

As always, things will improve: It will rain again. In the meantime, I encourage those who need it to seek help and support.