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Published: 2017-12-14 11:00:00

First up, let's just put your mind at rest. We are not in a drought.

Why then is there talk of drought around the region? Typicallly because it's not easy to spot the differences. It’s easy to see if there’s a flood or an earthquake, but drought’s an odd one to call. When does a dry spell become a drought? And who do we listen to?

Here's a tip for newbies: NIWA talks about the environment, Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) talks about effects on farmers, and Civil Defence talks about consequences (or, the 'so what?')

Let's take a closer look: 

NIWA recently launched a NZ Drought Index [see it here] which is a really useful piece of the puzzle. It takes into account four different measures of dryness, which are combined and categorised as: 

  • dry
  • very dry
  • extremely dry
  • drought
  • severe drought.

Dry spells and droughts are part of life for many farmers across New Zealand. Farmers monitor their local conditions, plan for dry weather, and make tough decisions early.

We work closely with MPI to look after farmers affected by adverse weather. MPI doesn’t declare droughts, but helps to identify if the impacts of a drought on the primary sector should be classified as a medium- or large-scale adverse event, under the criteria in the Primary Sector Recovery Policy. 

That triggers extra government recovery assistance, such as additional funding for Rural Support Trusts to help their farming communities.

As well as the NZ Drought Index, MPI’s criteria includes:

  • options available for farmers to prepare for the event
  • the likelihood and scale of the physical impact
  • and the ability of the local community to cope socially and economically.

NIWA meteorologist Chris Brandolino says, “it’s distinctly possible that much of the country will experience below normal rainfall through to the Christmas holiday period, and December temperatures are very likely to remain above average for all of New Zealand and the summer season as a whole.”

All calm on the farm

It’s a no-brainer that strong networks and relationships in peacetime make life easier when things go to pot, and this can be even more important in rural areas.  Variously named Rural Advisory Groups, Rural Coordination Groups, and Primary Industries Clusters have been popping up around the country, and now there’s a concerted effort to build and strengthen these in each region.

Primary industry communities have specific challenges in an event; local knowledge can be critical to managing issues such as geographical isolation, large-scale animal welfare and protecting ongoing productivity.

Who’s in these regional rural groups?

Usually led by a partnership between the regional CDEM Group, MPI and Rural Support Trusts, most have a core group of around ten people, with a much wider group coming together a couple of times a year.

It’s different in each region, but so far Rural Groups can include (and are not limited to):

  • CDEM Group: Group Welfare Manager, Emergency Management Officers, Local Welfare Managers, Group Manager and Group Controller
  • Ministry for Primary Industries •Rural Support Trust
  • Federated Farmers
  • Primary Industry groups: DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ,  & other groups (horticulture, deer, goats, pork, poultry)
  • Animal welfare groups: SPCA, NZ Vet Association, Council Animal Control
  • Rural Women NZ, Dairy Woman’s Network, Young Farmers
  • Rural companies: Dairy companies (e.g. Fonterra, Miraka etc), meat companies, the Primary ITO
  • Transport representatives
  • Ministry of Social Development
  • Regional and district councils

What’s next?

Groups are on a journey to improve the way systems work to support farmers, so the focus is on quickly getting out the right support to farmers when it’s needed.

Interested? Contact your local Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP).