Farmers along the Manuherikia River are running their irrigation schemes at 50% capacity during what has been described as a “dire” season and one of the worst on record.
According to the 2017 New Zealand Climate Summary, produced by the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, Otago had seven of the eight driest places in the country last year, and University of Otago honorary research fellow Jim Salinger said early indications predicted that 2018 would be even warmer than last year.
For farmers in the Ida and Manuherikia valleys, the year has started badly and hot, dry conditions have had a severe impact on local operations.
Matakanui Station owner Andrew Paterson described the season so far as “pretty dire”.
Farmers in the southern end of the Manuherikia and Ida valleys were being hit hard by the dry weather, he said.
“It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it here in my time.
“The bottom of the Manuherikia has missed out on most things – the thunderstorms and the easterly rain that came a wee while ago.
“It’s not good.”
The ongoing dry weather, coupled with increased wind in the afternoon, meant whatever moisture remained was drying up, he said.
“We’re looking more like a desert.
“Irrigation’s just not cutting it.”
Like other farmers in the area, his irrigation was operating at 50% capacity, while his private water scheme was running at about 33%, he said.
There had also been an explosion in the rabbit population in the area, which he put down to the warm, dry, weather.
The economic impact of the poor season remained to be seen, he said.
“I’ve got a lamb sale next week.
“Instead of selling fat lambs to the works we’re selling them as store lambs.
“It’s pretty disheartening when you spend all that money on irrigation and all that work on irrigation and then turn around and have a season like this.
“You think you’re starting to get ahead and you just get a kick in the guts again.”
Springvale Downs farmer Gary Kelliher said the season was possibly the worst on record for his operation.
“There doesn’t seem to be a reprieve from it.
“There’ll be some farmers out there making some pretty tough decisions this year.”
The Taieri River and Kye Burn hit record low levels last month, and aquifers in the Hawea Basin, Wakatipu Basin and Dunstan Flat were also at very low levels when monitoring was conducted in December.