Colin Williscroft


Farming and other food producing businesses across the Waimea are suffering, their owners forced into considering worst-case scenarios as hot, dry weather, exacerbated by drying winds, take its toll.
While there is some hope on the horizon this weekend that Cyclone Oma will deliver much-needed rain, no one wants to pin all their hopes on the weather forecast.
Appleby vegetable grower Mark O’Connor says, in his 20 years’ of growing he has never experienced a situation like the current one.
“It’s pretty drastic, people are really struggling.”
With their water allocation down to 35 per cent of what is normal, for the past three weeks growers have been forced into choosing what they water, decisions based on what could survive and what their returns might be.
The lack of rain could not have come at a worse time, he says, as now is usually the busiest time for planting winter crops. For many, they are just not planting, as without water it’s a futile exercise. Plants are being thrown out.
The situation extends right across the Waimea Plains, he says, but although it’s a tough time it’s important to keep some sort of perspective.
“It’s not a great position we’re in but it is what it is and people shouldn’t stress to much about things they have no influence over.”
Although that might be easier said than done, it’s the well-being of people that should come first, he says.
“It’s important to talk to your neighbours,” he says. “Have a bit of a yak.
“Or if you need it, reach out and get some help.”
It is just as tough for farmers.
Federated Farmers Nelson spokesman Martin O’Connor says a lot of farmers across the Waimea are destocking, adjusting the mouths they have to feed with the amount of feed they have.
He says reliance on supplementary feed and water has become the norm.
Martin says farmers need to make decisions early as to how they are going to deal with their situation and then stick with it.
“It’s never going to be perfect but the first decisions are often the best decisions.”
He says farmers who leave things too long may find they can’t get rid of stock, as there will be no room left at the freezing works with everyone in the same boat.
The government says it recognises the pressure the rural sector in the area is under, declaring a medium scale adverse event for the Tasman district, which will unlock support for farmers and growers.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, who lives in the district, says the drought conditions, combined with the wildfire, have made it a particularly tough time for those trying to manage stock and grow food.
Declaring the adverse event makes an extra $50,000 available to the rural support trust and primary industry groups to help speed up the recovery of farming and horticultural businesses.
Damien says officials have been working with local trusts councils and industry bodies recently as the dry weather threatened to tip into drought.

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