The whole of the North Island is now officially in a state of drought.
The Government, which declared Northland and North Auckland as the first areas officially in drought on February 27, today formally put the whole of the island on drought footing.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said today that local groups had asked for regional declarations of drought in the past week, "and it has become clear that nearly all farmers in every part of the North Island are facing very difficult dry conditions".
“Extra Government funding will now be available to Rural Support Trusts who work closely with farmers, providing support and guidance.
“There will also be Rural Assistance Payments (RAPs) available from Work and Income, through the Ministry of Social Development. These are equivalent to the unemployment benefit and are available to those in extreme hardship.
“Many rural people can be reluctant to ask for help, but it is important for them to know that support is available. This is a difficult time for rural families and they need to know that the Government and all New Zealanders are behind them."
The news comes as rain is in fact forecast for this weekend. Guy said that was welcome news.
"However we will need more than this to help prepare for the winter and set up for next spring."
And Guy indicated that the South Island was being watched closely for developments as well.
“Parts of the South Island are also very dry, in particular the Grey and Buller districts. We are keeping a close watch on all further regions."
Economists have seen the fast-worsening big dry as a growing threat to what otherwise looks like being strengthening economic growth this year. Early estimates have suggested a 0.5% direct hit to GDP, but these estimates are probably being revised upwards all the time. Additionally, the impact of reduced farmer spending in the wider community will have longer-term flow-on effects throughout the entire economy.
Already dairy prices are being driven higher, with a 10.4% surge in prices at the last global auction. As the largest exporter of dairy products, New Zealand has a significant influence on global prices.
Guys said he was very pleased with how communities have pulled together to help each other out so far.
"Federated Farmers have been operating a ‘Feedline’ to match farmers with feed supplies, which is receiving good interest.
“Beef + Lamb NZ, Dairy NZ, the Ministry for Primary Industries and others have also been providing practical support.
“Farmers should contact their accountants or the IRD if they need help or flexibility with making tax payments, and standard hardship assistance is available from Work and Income,” he said.