Ongoing drought is bleeding us dry 

30 April, 2020    

By Rhea Dasent, Federated Farmers Senior Policy Advisor

We are living through exceptional times, and the drought of 2020 is one of the exceptions - and not in a good way.

Businesses affected by the coronavirus lockdown understand how farmers feel about the drought.

Being unable to trade due to external influences puts you not just on the back foot, but several feet behind, for the rest of the year or even longer.

Tourism businesses rely on a good summer with lots of customers in order to have the income to get through the low winter season. Farmers have good and bad seasons too, and hope that it all evens out.

But the lockdown and this drought have taken the usual seasonal ups and downs to a whole new level.

The focus has changed from earning income, to a desperate effort to keep your business heartbeat going. If it drags on too long, then rigor mortis sets in and it is too late.

For tourism, it is trying to hold on to staff during the Covid-19 response; for farmers, it is keeping their stock fed and alive during drought.

The drought has been slowly stripping the choices away from farmers.

The works don’t have the capacity to take any more stock, and now farmers are struggling to keep heartbeats going.

On my farm pasture has run out, even though all summer we have run only a fraction of the cattle we normally have.

Our hay is just about to run out, and we didn’t have much of that as we’d have liked to because of the poor spring grass growth last year.

We have grazed the odd places: down driveways, around the woolshed and house, along the roadside.

Buying in feed is near impossible because the whole North Island is in the same predicament, making the cost plentiful but the supply not.

The winter grass dormancy period is about to start, and grass hasn’t had enough rain to get good roots or photosynthesise to store energy for spring. In 2020, we have only had less than 30per cent of the rain that we normally enjoy from January to end of April.

With coronavirus disrupting trade and supply around the globe, our nation being able to produce our own food is more important than ever.

Farmers shouldn’t find next year’s production, or their nitrogen limit, being reduced by councils because this bad year lowers their average nitrogen input.

We will all find out what it is to not have good national food security then.

- This column was first published in Hawke's Bay Today