There has been enough rainfall in April to get Waikato grass growing again, technically putting an end to drought in the region, which was based on soil moisture deficit.
However, Environment Waikato chairman Peter Buckley said the impacts of this summer’s big dry would continue to be felt for months and region was now in recovery mode.
“While the drought may technically be over, farmers are now dealing with the aftermath of suffering through a long period when soils were extremely dry,” Cr Buckley said.
“We’ve got pastures that need time to regenerate, animals that need time to put weight on, and farmers who need time to recover.”
Rural Support Trust spokesperson and rural consultant Mandi McLeod believed the impacts of the drought would carry through until Christmas.
“Summer’s feed shortages could impact on mating, we’re running out of stores of forage-based feeds, pasture covers are significantly lower than expected, and we’re coming into winter when there is potential for soil damage,” Ms McLeod said.
“We encourage people to use fertilisers such as nitrogen responsibly and not to apply it to water-logged soils or pasture that is too short to utilise it. It’s better to apply small amounts regularly than to apply it all at once.
“With little pasture cover after the drought, soils will be more susceptible to damage, so farmers should also reconsider their stocking rates, which will take pressure off soils, pasture, animals and people.”
Ms McLeod said many people would be “stuck in a cycle of being reactive rather than proactive because they can’t do anything else now”.
“The trust is really concerned that the full impacts of the drought haven’t been felt yet.”
Anyone in the rural community who needs advice or support is encouraged to contact the Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254.
Meanwhile, although there has been enough rain to make the grass grow again, Cr Buckley said Environment Waikato’s concerns about low river and lake levels were far from over.
“If you look at how much rain has fallen since the start of the year, we’re still well below average in some areas,” Cr Buckley said.
“Accumulated water storage in Lake Taupo and some other catchments just isn’t there and it could take months for our rivers and lakes to return to normal levels.”
Cr Buckley said while the risk of Lake Taupo dropping below minimum operating level had reduced, the lake’s water level was still relatively low.
“We’re optimistic because there is a much greater likelihood of rain now we’re into autumn, but we just don’t know what will happen next,” he said.
Information on April’s rainfall
Environment Waikato declared the Waikato a drought zone on February 7 on the basis of extremely low soil moisture levels throughout the region.
Following consultations with NIWA, the council is now satisfied April rain has been enough to replenish soil moisture levels across most of the region – although some dry pockets remain, particularly in northern parts of the Waikato.
NIWA’s principal climate scientist Jim Salinger said soils across most of the Waikato region were now wetter than average for this time of year.
“April rainfall has been sufficient to bring soil moisture to levels that are more than adequate for the resumption of pasture growth,” Dr Salinger said.
“The future outlook for the Waikato region is for soil moisture levels to remain sufficient for pasture growth.”