Being Prepared for Summer Dry

The Current Situation

Many of the dry areas are starting up farmer focused groups – such  Rural Advisory/Coordination Groups or Primary Industries Adverse Events Cluster groups - to monitor the effects in their region and the ability of communities to cope with the conditions.

The NIWA Drought Monitor can be found here  

The NIWA NZ Drought Index indicates significant drying has occurred since early December.  Meteorological drought conditions currently exist over much of the lower North Island with a small, but growing, area of severe drought conditions along the southwest coast of the North Island. Dry conditions have also expanded over the South Island, with areas of meteorological drought present over the Marlborough Sounds region.

These conditions are chiefly due to an extended period of below normal or well below normal rainfall, and increasing evapotranspiration rates.  Average daily evapotranspiration in December ranges from 3-5 mm per day, increasing to 4-6 mm per day in January.  Consequently, sustained periods of rainfall are needed to reverse the drying trend.

There are indications that, during early January 2018, the weather pattern may become more favourable for rain over western regions of both islands as well as the northern South Island.  Given the warm ocean temperatures around the country and the projected weather set-up, there is potential for heavy rain in parts of the country. Unfortunately, it’s too early to specify exactly where that heavy rainfall may occur.

What Comes Next

Additional support and recovery assistance measures for rural communities can be necessary in prolonged or widespread drought, particularly droughts that extend for two growing seasons or more. However it’s often not necessary if dryness or drought are localised, or temporary.

NIWA has indicated that there will likely be an increased chance of rain, possibly significant for some areas, in January 2018. Should forecast rain be minimal, and current temperatures continue, conditions in some of the dry-affected areas could meet the criteria for being formally classified as a medium-scale drought event within the next month. This will be more likely if the impact of the much drier than usual conditions becomes more widespread and beyond the capacity of the community to continue managing.

If the impacts of a drought are classified as medium- or large-scale, it can trigger extra government recovery assistance, such as additional funding for Rural Support Trusts to help their communities get through a drought.

What farmers can do

Don’t hold out for rain as a reason to delay any decisions you need to make. Make plans and set trigger points to make decisions or take action such as once a day milking, drying off or culling early. In light of current conditions and warm temperatures driving high evapotranspiration (moisture loss from soils), it will take significant rainfall to slow down or reverse the dry conditions. 

That it is so dry so early in the season is unusual and this may further limit your options, or create uncertainty, such as decisions on which animals to sell or cull. Decisions to destock should be made in advance if killing space is in high demand in your area.

In many locations also stock feed in the form of hay and silage is lower than normal due to the wet winter and spring. You need to understand your local situation and factor these delays in your planning and also ensure that there is clarity around feed/grazing expenses sharing

Make business partners (e.g. sharemilkers, contract milkers) and staff part of the decision making process.  What is decided affects them. Any loss of production due to the dry conditions can have financial implications for all and so cause significant stress.

Rural Support Trust is there to help. If you need to get pointed in the right direction for advice or information, are concerned about a friend, a neighbour, a worker…. or just need a private chat, their services are free & confidential. Call 0800 RURAL HELP (0800 787 254) or visit 

For North Island Farmers looking for feed or grazing the Hawkes Bay currently has feed available and can take stock for grazing. Look on TradeMe and other advertising websites to get in contact with them. 

We will keep you up to date with member advisories and information in the Friday Flash so make sure you update your email address by signing in here or calling 0800 327 646.

Managing for Dry Conditions - Meat and Fibre Farmers

Beef + Lamb have some great tools available to help you to begin writing up a plan to manage your business through dry conditions. It may seem a bit early to begin worrying about drought but if you take the time now to into planning, this will only be an advantage should a drought happen.

While no-one can make it rain, there are a number of management strategies that farmers can put in place to protect the future performance of their capital breeding stock. With the correct planning and use of tools such as early weaning, body condition scoring and feed budgets, farmers can make the most efficient and effective use of limited feed resources.

For beef + lamb's latest resources on how to apply these management strategies - click here

Managing for Dry Conditions - Dairy

DairyNZ has a wide range of tools for Summer Management, not just for drought.

Planning ahead, monitoring the situation and applying dry summer management strategies are all available on their Summer Management page.

There is also a summer management planning template - this checklist will help you formulate a summer management plan, preparing you for whatever weather conditions eventuate.

Keep in touch with your local DairyNZ Consulting Officer and try to get off farm to their discussion groups and education days where you can. 

Don't forget about biosecurity and the paperwork if you're grazing stock away

If you are going to send stock away for grazing, or you are in a position to take animals, remember that biosecurity still needs to be considered, particularly as we learn more about the M. bovis spread across the country.

Make sure you update NAIT with all stock movements, TB requirements, and discuss ways on keeping your mob separated from others if possible. NAIT is a requirement, and should there be an outbreak linked to the property you are grazing on, the proper steps can be put in place to protect you.

Also protect yourself and your stock - make sure you have a grazing agreement in place with your grazier (if you need to purchase one, we have them available in the shop), have an open and honest conversation about communication and what the grazier should do if they find themselves running low on feed.