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N.Z. Dairy Farms May Face New Drought, Minister Says

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New Zealand Dairy Farms May Face Second Drought
Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd., the world’s largest dairy exporter, collected 4.3 percent less milk than a year earlier from North Island suppliers in the last season ended May 31 because farmers halted milking early amid extremely dry conditions in the Waikato province. Photographer: Brendon O'Hagan/Bloomberg

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- New Zealand’s largest dairy-farming region may face a summer drought for a second year, slowing the nation’s economic recovery and pushing up global milk prices.

The risk of a significant drought in Waikato, the largest milk-producing province, and Northland is “very high,” with little rain forecast for the next month, Agriculture Minister David Carter said today in an interview from Christchurch.

“We are heading for extremely dry conditions, probably drought,” Carter said. “It’s not hard to get a significant drought in New Zealand making a difference to GDP.”

Lower farm production could curb New Zealand’s exports, which make up about 30 percent of the $125 billion economy, and may push up global milk prices. Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd., the largest dairy exporter, collected 4.3 percent less milk in the season ended May 31 than a year earlier because farmers halted milking early amid extremely dry conditions in Waikato.

“We’re monitoring the weather conditions closely,” a Fonterra spokesman said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg. “While much of the country has had less rain than usual over the last six weeks, it’s too early to know what impact this will have on total milk production for the season.”

Whole-milk powder prices climbed to a two-month high at Fonterra’s latest GlobalDairyTrade auction. Spot contract prices rose 1.3 percent, while prices for the period from March to May surged 4.1 percent.

Farm Profits

“We wonder if the weather risk is starting to be priced into the auction prices,” said Doug Steel, markets economist at Bank of New Zealand Ltd. in Wellington. “The longer-term contracts well into next year are where the price rises occurred. I would suspect a little of that risk premium going into those longer-dated contracts now.”

New Zealand’s economy expanded 0.2 percent in the second quarter, as the nation makes a sluggish recovery from the worst recession in three decades, which ended in the first quarter of 2009. Growth is forecast to be 2.5 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2011, the central bank said in September.

Steel declined to speculate on how much a drought might slow economic growth next year. As well as milk production, drought can disrupt livestock slaughter as farmers reduce stock levels earlier than normal, he said.

“If it doesn’t dent production itself it will put upward pressure on feed costs and profitability on farms is certainly going to decrease,” he said.

Soil Moisture

Soil moisture conditions in the Waikato province are at levels normally expected in January and temperatures were the highest in 100 years, Stewart Wadey, provincial president for Federated Farmers Inc. said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

“I was in the Waikato yesterday and just flying in and out you can see how dry the conditions are there,” Carter said. The government will be monitoring reports to assess whether to declare a medium-scale drought event that will trigger support measures for affected farmers, he said.

“The effect of a single drought is insidiously long on any farming family,” he said. “I’ve farmed through droughts in Canterbury. They affect you for a long time. To have two in a row is devastating.”

New Zealand is experiencing a La Nina weather pattern, which is characterized by high early season temperatures, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. Its forecasts to January suggest below-average rainfall and soil moisture levels are likely on the nation’s South Island and average rainfall in the north.

“It’s certainly a lot drier than normal north of Taupo,” said Steel, referring to a central North Island lake. The risk of a drought “is starting to turn a little bit into reality and as for January, February it remains an unknown but the signs aren’t looking that good,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tracy Withers in Wellington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson

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