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Northland drought strains farmers

Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 5:52 p.m.

The Government has officially declared a state of drought in Northland, with Minster of Primary Industries Nathan Guy announcing it in Dargaville today.

The decision comes after the local community sought for the drought to be declared.

For the third time in four summers Northland has looked like a scene from a western, and once again a drought has been declared, recognising how dire the situation is for farmers like Malcolm Welsh.

“[I am] struggling just feeding animals, [with] financial pressure, extra cost,” he says.

Northland’s last drought cost the local economy $30 million. The Government knows that could happen again.

“Yes, that is a concern,” says Mr Guy. “The Waikato situation in ‘07, ’08 took about $1 billion out of the bottom of the line for New Zealand, so we do know this is going to take a hit on the Government.”

The official drought status means in extreme cases farmers will be eligible for an emergency benefit. But the majority of support will come in the form of advice, such as help negotiating with creditors.

Parts of Northland have had their driest February since records began in 1948, and there's no sign of any significant rainfall on the horizon.

But Northland is not alone. Much of the North Island is teetering on drought status.

“We have a whole large area in New Zealand where the soils are extremely dry or significantly dry,” says NIWA climate scientist Georgina Griffiths. “So all of the North Island is bordering on that category.”

NIWA monitors soil moisture levels, and says historically Otago and Canterbury are dry in February.

But this year, as well as the South, much of the North Island is designated "extremely dry". Many areas are classified as also being “significantly dry”.

Niwa says it's going to take weeks of regular rainfall for the soils of the North Island to recover, and farmers like Mr Welsh can only anxiously wait. 

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