Summer ‘driest since records began’

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Hey hay ... A herd of 7-month-old beef shorthorn weiners eat hay on Westwood Farm in Papatotara near Tuatapere in Western Southland.

A dry summer “exacerbated” by a parched March has set records across the South, Niwa says.

As the Southland Rural Support Trust urges farmers to check their feed supply now, Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll said a long spell of dry weather had set records in the South.

“The duration of the dryness is longer than we’ve seen – that’s where this event stands out.”

Invercargill had 42% of its normal rainfall during summer, making it the driest since records began in 1900.

Other Niwa weather stations to set dry weather records included Stewart Island (36% of normal rainfall) and Tiwai Point (40% of normal rainfall).

“Unfortunately we had a dry start to autumn, so that dry summer was exacerbated.”

More than 20 places in the South had a record, or near record, for the driest March including Balclutha, Gore, Tapanui and Queenstown.

Temperatures had been warmer than usual in the South.

Warmer temperatures increase evaporation rates and when combined with low rates of rainfall “can lead to some dire consequences”.

Speaking to Southern Rural Life last week, Mr Noll said soil moisture levels were between 30-50mm lower than normal in places across the South.

Southland Rural Support Trust chairwoman Cathie Cotter, of Invercargill, said supplementary feed was in short supply in Southland.

Winter crop yields were down in Southland and insects, such as white butterfly, were swarming.

The warm and dry weather had created an “insect heaven”.

Farmers should get a comprehensive feed assessment completed now to reveal how much feed they had available.

The assessment would reveal any “pressure points” and help avoid any “nasty surprises”.

“Do it now – don’t wait. It’s easy for farmers to have their head in the sand and not want to look at what’s happening but if you get an idea now and know what the problem is, it’s easier to solve it.”

Feed was available in the North Island and was being trucked to the South, she said.

Although killing space at meatworks was tight, space was available to farmers under pressure due to a lack of feed.

Farmers short on feed could get connected to those with a surplus in many ways, such as by contacting the Federated Farmers’ feed co-ordination service or a farm consultant.

The trust was also available to provide support, information and connections on 800-787-254.