Primary industry sectors are welcoming a new fund for drought recovery, announced in early-May, but some say prevention is better than cure. And as such, more needs to be done to solve the overall problem of more dry weather affecting farmers in future.
The $500,000 fund has been set up by government to help farmers and growers prepare their businesses to recover from drought as the economy gets moving again, says Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.
The fund will provide advisory services that usually cost $5000 to equip rural businesses with professional and technical advice to help them recover from and better prepare for future drought. “As we rebuild the economy following the effects of a global pandemic, we have an opportunity to build back better than before and factor in resilience for our productive primary sector,” says Damien.
Beef + Lamb NZ say the fund is appreciated – and while DairyNZ agrees, it believes a coherent and coordinated national water storage strategy is what’s really needed.
IrrigationNZ says any support is good “but, this [fund] is simply putting a plaster on the wound” – and that the Government has missed an opportunity for water investment to aid the Covid-19 recovery in its 2020 Budget.
Reacting to Budget 2020, Hort NZ says it also wants to see government invest in infrastructure projects like water storage that are important at a regional level “and will assist those communities”.
IrrigationNZ chief executive Elizabeth Soal says strategic water storage in key regions could aid a post-Covid-19 recovery which focuses on protecting jobs, creating new ones, achieving positive environmental outcomes, and contributing to climate change targets.
“We don’t have enough reliable water storage to support both rural and urban communities during times of drought – as a country, we should be creating an overarching water strategy to futureproof us in these situations,” says Elizabeth. “Budget 2020 has missed the opportunity for water storage to be part of the solution.”
Lack of rain this year has had detrimental impacts on many regions, including environmental and the health of wellbeing of communities – but Waikato and Hawke’s Bay are some of the hardest hit.
IrrigationNZ board member Ivan Knauf, a Hawke’s Bay farmer, says they’re simply running out of water. “Stock feed is limited, and the lockdown made it difficult to move stock, farmers are already struggling with financial pressure and this doesn’t make any impact in solving the overall issue,” says Ivan.
“In the 20 years I’ve been here it’s the driest I’ve ever seen it. If this is climate change, we need better strategies and policies to provide support during these times, because it’s happening here this year and it will probably happen in another region next year.”
Elizabeth says water storage is not only about sustaining agriculture we already have – “it can unlock opportunities such as land-use change, topping up low river flows and developing underdeveloped land”.
DairyNZ general manager farm performance Sharon Morrell says this year’s drought has affected thousands of farmers “and this fund may not extend as far as it is needed”.
DairyNZ says the drought again highlights the urgent need for greater investment in water storage in key regions where dry conditions often has a big impact on farms. “Water storage is essential to giving farmers access to water, when and where farmers need it, in times of drought,” says Sharon.
“It’s promising to see the Government starting to move in this direction with water storage schemes recently announced for both Northland and Hawke’s Bay – but what is really needed is a coherent and coordinated national water storage strategy. In the face of a changing climate, investing in water storage will help build more resilient rural communities.”
Meanwhile, B+LNZ says the fund is a welcome initiative as the sector deals with the ongoing impacts from both the drought and Covid-19. “With first the severe drought and then the disruptions caused by Covid-19, farmers have been dealing with two hugely challenging situations over the last six months and this new pilot fund is welcome news for the sector,” says B+LNZ’s CEO Sam McIvor.
“We’re especially glad to see Minister O’Connor and MPI picked up on the suggestion from B+NZ’s Mark Harris, to have feed coordinators in place to ensure farmers who are in need of feed due to drought or having to hold more stock on farm due to Covid-19 are assisted to access feed.”
Damien says this year the Government has invested $17 million to help drought-stricken regions recover from what many are saying is the worst drought in living memory. “Although there has been a bit of rain relief recently, it takes steady rain at the right time to get grass growing again. The flow-on effects of water shortages and low feed availability take a long time to fully recover from and some farmers will be dealing with the effects of this drought for a year or more.
“We know that, with climate change, we can expect more acute weather events so it’s important we help farmers and growers get their businesses ready for future drought.
“Key to recovery is making good decisions, based on sound advice. The purpose of this new fund is to ensure our farmers and growers can tap into this advice. It will address the longer-term issues but there are also ongoing, acute issues that need to be addressed with urgency...so two feed coordinators are in place, to make sure available feed gets from where it is to where it’s most needed.”