Hawke's Bay farmers desperate as serious drought is overshadowed by Covid-19 crisis

Sean Hogan
Source: 1News

Alistair Renton dishes out the last meal for his four year old cows - their next stop is the meat works as he can't keep feeding them.

“We were meant to be unloading hay here today now but as you can see we are not because the truck driver says it's not coming," he told 1 NEWS on a cold morning in Maraekakaho.

There's fresh snow on the mountain ranges in the distance, but not a drop of rain fell on his baron farm last night.

His cows are the latest casualties of a drought tormenting Hawke's Bay. They won't be the last animals he'll have to cull this year.

"We've killed 600 ewes in lamb and bought in a lot of feed so there is not going to be a lot of income next year."

In fact, the majority of the North Island is experiencing the driest start to a year on record.

Water restrictions have been in place in Northland for months and this week, Auckland Council also announced restrictions for our biggest city.

Over the last six months, the Hawke's Bay has seen only a quarter of expected rainfall.

And for rural communities, it means feed is scarce everywhere.

Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay president Jim Galloway says it's plaguing farmers in the region.

"The main issue is winter is coming we have had some frosts already the winds have turned round to the south and it's quite cold so grass doesn't grow when it's cold. So we are starting to run out of opportunities to grow grass for winter."

Poppy Renton set up a Facebook page to help connect her community with feed and each other.

"Everyone's wanting it and there is not enough there and people are getting promised it and it's not turning up like we were."

Now with over 2000 members. They are sharing the tough times together.

This week two co-ordinators have been set up by the Government to try get farmers the feed they need, they've also pledged $500,000 for advice on dealing with droughts but for many that's a drop in this very dry bucket.

Jim Galloway says it's a start.

"Most people know they haven't got enough feed," he laughed. "But it helps them explore other opportunities."

This year, $17 million has been pledged for drought initiatives but Kate Renton said lockdown was taking its toll.

"Usually you go to the pub or to your neighbours and have a drink and a chat and exchange ideas and whatever advice but you can't at the moment," she said.

With dams running dry, Federated Farmers wants wider water storage considered.

"We need to get things moving and water storage for stock water better on farm storage for that maybe community schemes also for irrigation and that allows people to diversify."

So as the Covid-19 crisis continues, it's another challenge for farmers with other issues in mind.