Can we have some rain please?
This year New Zealand has had one of the hottest and driest summers on record. Most of the country has had temperatures some 2-3 degrees Celsius above normal monthly averages since December, and record low rainfall. As a result all of the agricultural lands in the North Island and on the west coast of the South Island have been declared drought areas.
Last weekend we traveled to Napier in the Hawkes Bay region of the North Island to attend a meeting and also visit a forest in the Kaweka Ranges, some 50 km inland from Napier. All of the areas we passed through on the 420 km drive from Auckland showed clear evidence of no rain, resulting in brown and dusty pastures. Farmers are having to feed their animals either with feed normally reserved for winter, or from feed stocks purchased from outside suppliers. Some suppliers have already run out of their reserve stocks. Farmers are having to de-stock to ensure that animals don’t suffer, and to allow pastures to recover when the rain finally arrives.
Because New Zealand is primarily an agriculture-based economy, the impact of the drought has flow-on effects into the wider economy. Already a predicted milk shortage has caused prices to rise on international dairy markets, and dairy farmers are receiving early payouts from the country’s biggest dairy products exporter to assist with drought relief.
The above image was taken from the road leading to the forest we visited in the Kaweka Ranges. There had been as light rain shower in the day or so before our visit which allowed a small amount of green to show. Mostly though, the pasture is brown, and what green there is is of little use to the animals. The green field in the distance is irrigated by the local farmer who has a water right to draw from a nearby stream.
It’s now autumn here in this far flung corner of the South Pacific, a time when we normally expect to get regular rain. So far it hasn’t arrived in any meaningful amounts. Farmers are concerned about grass regeneration to see them through winter and into the next spring.
There is one consolation from all this heat and dryness though. The Hawkes Bay region is one of New Zealand’s major wine producing areas. The long hot summer has produced a high quality crop of grapes this year which the wine producers are very excited about. It promises to be a great vintage.