Dry . . . North Canterbury farmers are looking to the heavens for rain to boost growth and kick winter feed crops along. Photo: File

By David Hill

North Canterbury farmers are being advised to prepare for the worst as dry conditions continue to bite.

Farmers need to be proactive in seeking advice and ensuring they have plenty of stock feed on hand heading into winter, Canterbury Rural Advisory Group chairman Winton Dalley says.

“Support is available,” he says.

“We are trying not panic anybody, but we are being proactive in getting reminders out to people of what they can do and what they should do.

“The key message is to be prepared, to get advice and to make sure you’ve got plenty of feed on hand.

“Most of the region has had a reasonably good growing season, so there is feed around, but some areas don’t have surpluses, so identify your feed sources now.”

The region north of the Rakaia river is already subject to a large-scale drought classification until June 30, but support is also available for farmers south of the Rakaia River.

The advisory group is collaborating with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), rural support trusts, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ to monitor the dry conditions across Canterbury and offer support to farmers, Mr Dalley says.

The group has increased its monthly conference call meetings to fortnightly as the situation deteriorates.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury meat and wool chairman Daniel Maxwell says time is running out for rain to break the drought on his Cheviot farm before winter.

“We’ve got a month left to get pasture covers up for the winter. If we could get a decent rain now we’ve got time to get some growth before winter sets in.”

But with no rain in sight, Mr Maxwell is already feeding out more supplements, has sold his store lambs and some calves, and made the decision not to mate his ewe hoggets this year, while his ewes are being fed sheep nuts.

“We’re at the point where we’ve got to start asking what are we going to do with the ewes over winter if it doesn’t rain?’

“Most farmers have some trigger points and dates, where they will take action to mitigate the conditions, so the key thing is to have a plan.”

The drought declaration means North Canterbury farmers can seek extra assistance through the Ministry of Social Development, including the Emergency Benefit, Special Needs Grant and Rural Assistance Payments.

Tax relief is available on a case-by-case basis through the Inland Revenue Department.

A free feed planning and co-ordination service is being offered by MPI to assist farmers with developing feed budgets and connecting with available sources of supplement, such as silage and hay.

Farmers impacted by the dry conditions can receive up to $6000 to seek independent financial or business advice through the government’s Farm Business Advice Support Fund, which is managed by the rural support trusts.

A farm debt mediation scheme is also available through MPI to help farmers and growers and their creditors work through debt issues.

Anyone who is concerned for their own or someone else’s mental wellbeing is advised to contact their local rural support trust on 0800 rural help (0800 787254) or their local GP.

To contact the feed planning service, phone 800 BeefLamb (0800 233352) or 800 4 DairyNZ (0800 43247969).