Otago farmers tense as possible drought looms

By John Lewis

Logan Dale (14) is busy picking raspberries at McArthur's Berry Farm, near Outram. Photo / Gerard O'Brien
Logan Dale (14) is busy picking raspberries at McArthur's Berry Farm, near Outram. Photo / Gerard O'Brien

Otago farmers are starting to get the jitters as drought conditions creep ever closer to the region.

Sunday's rainfall was welcomed by many farmers, but they say it is nowhere near enough to keep the dry spell from taking their fields.

Otago Federated Farmers vice-president and Toko Mouth farmer Simon Davies said many Central Otago farms were tinder dry and farms across Otago were running low on water. Some Clutha farmers were having water trucked in for stock to drink.

MetService data shows between 0mm and 13mm of rain fell across the region on Sunday.

Mr Davies said, ideally, farmers needed between 50mm and 75mm of rain over the space of a week to keep them going for the next month or so.

''We don't want it all in one hit because it would all just run straight off and into the river.

''There's no question Sunday's rainfall would have helped farmers.

''It'll freshen things up, but in reality it probably won't make a lot of difference to the soil moisture levels.

''Four or five days of what we had on Sunday would be just wonderful.''

For farmers in Central Otago, there had not been anywhere near enough rainfall and, even if it did come, he believed it might already be too late.

''To be brutally honest, I would say the horse has probably just about bolted from up there this season.

''You get to a certain point in the season when the moisture level is such that it wouldn't really matter how much more moisture they got.

''The season has finished for them.

''It's dried off, the seed will be way down and the reality is, if they have the option, most of them will be getting rid of as many of their mouths [stock] as they can.

''So, basically, they'll be getting rid of as many lambs as they can and concentrating on trying to maintain their breeding stock.''

Mr Davies said if consistent rain failed to materialise soon, dairy farmers would also be affected, forcing them to reduce milking to once every 16 hours or even once a day.

The Taieri was satisfactory at the moment, but he believed some farmers were starting to feed supplements to their stock because the grass was not growing quickly enough.

''The next issue will be whether they can grow supplements [grass] to put away for the winter.

''My own baleage crops have been lighter than normal and that's because of a lack of moisture.

''The saving grace is, last year, an awful lot of baleage was made, so there will be a lot of baleage which was left over that is being used now,'' Mr Davies said.

McArthur's Berry Farm owner Steve McArthur, of Outram, said the lack of rain was also affecting his raspberry crop.

Sunday's rainfall was ''a bit late, but it was better late than never'', Mr McArthur said.

''It left the odd puddle around which I haven't seen for a while.

''It was well worth it - desperately needed.

''It will help size up the fruit that's coming on.''

He believed it would keep his raspberries growing for another 2 to 3 weeks, but considerably more rain was needed.

The crop really needed the rain three weeks ago and, as a result, some of the fruit was quite small compared with previous years.

''It just hasn't had the rain early enough to blow the fruit up a bit.

''It's still ripe and it's still juicy. It's just not the same size.

''We're down 15% to 20% on the usual fruit weights.''

However, the upside was the pottles looked a lot fuller because there were more berries in them.

- Otago Daily Times

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