Rain welcome relief for farmers

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Central Otago farmers have rejoiced following recent rain after a hot, dry summer was declared one of the worst on record.

Springvale Downs farmer Gary Kelliher said it was a “very, very tough season”.

Irrigation was cut back to 50% in December and drought was officially declared in Central Otago in January.

But recent rain throughout the district had offered a reprieve for struggling farmers, he said.

The wet weather came in early February, with 82mm recorded to begin with, followed by further smaller amounts.

“That was just the start. You couldn’t have asked for a better start.

“We’ve been so lucky this season. For a drought to be broken the way the way it’s been broken .. it’s absolutely magic.”

He praised the management of Falls Dam and the Manuherikia River throughout the season.

“The river is the key thing. Through that challenging season we were so lucky it was well managed.”

Early rationing ensured the river stayed at a level of 900ml/s, and restrictions continued for another week after the rains to fill Falls Dam further.

The dam was crucial in ensuring the river continued to flow throughout the dry period, he said.

But businesses would not recover immediately, he said.

“For us, when it starts getting really dry we’re in a situation where we know we’ll make a loss.”

Andrew Paterson, of Matakanui Station, estimated his business had lost about $250,000 by selling lambs and cattle much earlier than planned.

Another potential problem for farmers was whether they had been able to grow and store feed in preparation for winter.

“It’s lucky I’ve got an understanding bank.

“It doesn’t make you feel any better when you know other people are having the same thing.”

He hoped the regular rain would continue to allow the pasture to recover.

“The climatic conditions have changed. They’ve cooled down a bit so we’re not getting that baking heat that dried everything out. We’ve actually got green around the farm. It’s looking pretty good.”