New Zealand Declares Drought in North Island Areas

New Zealand’s government has declared parts of the North Island, including the dairy and sheep farming region of Northland, to be a medium-level drought zone.

The announcement, which covers all areas north of Auckland’s harbor bridge, will trigger relief measures for farmers, Agriculture Minister David Carter said today in an e-mailed statement. The measures include funding for the Rural Support Trust to provide welfare and advice, he said.

“The situation in Northland is serious,” said Carter, who visited the area today. “Farmers are still recovering from last summer’s drought and they’re now facing it all over again, weeks earlier than expected.”

Lower farm production could curb New Zealand’s exports, which make up about 30 percent of the $125 billion economy. Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd., the largest dairy exporter, collected 4.3 percent less milk from its North Island suppliers in the season ended May 31 than a year earlier because of extremely dry conditions in the Waikato province.

The chance of a drought in Waikato, the largest milk-producing province, was “very high,” Carter said in an interview last week. Fonterra said Dec. 2 it was monitoring weather conditions closely.

Long Summer

“It’s shaping up to be a long summer and there is every likelihood other areas will soon find themselves in the same situation as Northland,” Carter said. Farmers need to make “hard decisions” about stocking rates and feed levels, he said.

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. The weather pattern may produce more rain than usual later in the summer, the institute says.

“Even if there is a wet summer, as some weather experts are predicting, this won’t change the severity of the situation as Northland has experienced its driest spring on record,” Carter said. “This is putting pressure on many farmers.”