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The drought

Written By: - Date published: 7:43 am, February 13th, 2015 - 37 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, farming, farming - Tags: , ,

I spent some of Waitangi weekend cycling bits of the Otago Rail Trail. Everything was parched and brown (29 degrees – why is it always uphill in to a head wind?). Locals are calling it The Big Dry.

Now the official drought has been declared, and farmers are saying “We haven’t seen these conditions before”. Farmers now have access to support through extra funding for rural support trusts.

I’m glad that we live in a country that has a welfare system to support those in need, as some farmers currently are. Wouldn’t it be nice if all welfare recipients were treated with dignity and respect?

Weather extremes are going to be the new normal. Droughts in many areas will only get worse from here. High intensity irrigation to support dairy farming probably isn’t sustainable. Both farmers and the country as a whole need to be adapting to this new reality.

Farmers are the most vulnerable of any of us to the impact of climate change. They should be leading the charge on reducing carbon emissions, reducing pollution, and developing sustainable methods. Why aren’t they? Why is the party that has traditionally represented farmers such a disaster on these issues? It is madness.

37 comments on “The drought ”

  1. tricledrown 1

    Because the farming sector knows it all they are extremely uncomprimising have their heads buried in the sand.unwilling to change.
    Thats not all farmers but the majority.
    Bringing in RCD was a very short sited idea.Sheep farming has been marginal since the 1950s with ocasional interludes.
    China wanted over a billion rabbits a year from us now they don’t want any.
    Dairy farming has expanded at an exponential rate,an unsustainable rate.
    Drought is going to bankrupt many because milk prices are down production is down debts aren’t going away.
    Laissez Faire it’ll be right mate attitudes,I am astounded at the levels of debt in th Dairy industry how the Banks have been happy to lend huge sums in a cyclical commodity industry.
    I would class that as predatry loan practice.These Bankers will be the first to foreclose when indebted farmers can’t meet their obligations.
    But they were happy to sign up the loans.
    The Canterbury plains aren’t suitable for large scale Dairying but are for cropping.
    Nick Smiths undoing of Ecan had allowed unfetered expansion of Dairying which has caused huge enviromental damage.
    There isn’t enough water in Canterbury to maitain the numbers of Cows yet National have allowed this disaster to happen!
    Cows are being neglected and abused now because their isn’t enough food or Water,Sporidiums are spreading because cows are being forced to stay on smaller irrigated blocks so aren’t being rotated of paddocks to allow sporidiums to die off.
    Its factoru farming out of control.

    • Kevin 1.1

      Of course the banks are happy to loan to dairy farmers as the land is going nowhere. And when they fail, the corporate farmers will be there, ready to pick up a bargain. It’s all about control of the resources.

  2. Sirenia 2

    Interesting to hear how drought-affected farmers will be treated when they go to a Work and Income office seeking help. Will they have a special desk to go to or will they have to go past two suspicious armed security guards, go into long queues, be turned away unless they have two or more specific pieces of identity and detailed information about their income, be denied help for counselling or other support, denied information about supplementary benefits, denied food grants, denied dignity and be treated as bludgers and scum?

    • David 2.1

      There are armed security guards at WINZ offices? Armed with bad attitudes and tacky body art maybe… The rest of your atatement I agree with though, that place is Hades these days.

  3. ianmac 3

    “They” of course will demand water storage as the answer. And this Government will stump up the millions to build dams in the High Country. Problems solved.

  4. vto 4

    Northern Hemisphere – Southern Hemisphere

    Over our recent history many plant and crop species from similar climates in the northern hemisphere have been brought down here very successfully. Grapes, olives, all the main grasses, the list is extensive…

    I understand that in France grapevines cannot be irrigated after their first 6 months in the ground. As such their roots go deep, very very deep like 10s of metres. This would certainly likely work in Canterbury where water tables are only a couple to a few metres down. Similarly olives and their desire for warmer and drier. These are two examples that have already worked successfully in east coast climes (though the irrigation needs to stop a-la France).

    Similarly taller tree species that have an economic value, with deeper rooting systems may work. And they would reverse that most significant of factors afflicting east coast now, namely deforestation and the consequent immediate drying of the land.

    Point being that imo these areas will go horticultural eventually. And horticulture has an intensity that feeds more people, supports more farmers and citizens per acre, etc. The northern hemisphere species have not yet been fully evaluated for their use in NZ. Then of course there are our native species which have lain dormant due to all eyes going elsewhere for too long. Kauri (we grow them in the south island with success that sees them as high as other fast-growing natives in the right place. Twice as long as pines to harvest but ten times the value – simple maths), flax, I dunno but there gotta be loads of them.

    Anyways just some brief thoughts arisen from too many years working, looking, thinking, day-dreaming on these matters in these here parts. Clearly the current model doesn’t work – I don’t think there is much credibility left in those promoting existing models – they are in their death throes and denial and that never lasts.

  5. Lanthanide 5

    “I’m glad that we live in a country that has a welfare system to support those in need, as some farmers currently are. Wouldn’t it be nice if all welfare recipients were treated with dignity and respect?”

    Supposedly these farmers are pretty much entitled to the unemployment benefit, but only if they effectively have no money to feed their families.

    Best not to make it sound like we’re doing anything really serious to help 99% of farmers.

    • weka 5.1

      +1

      I saw something recently from a farmer spokesperson, who said that support is only available to farmers in extreme situations (eg they can’t feed themselves). I’d like to see something on the actual facts about farmer welfare.

      Having said that, it came from a Fed Farmers bod, and he no doubt wants farming to continue doing the same old shit and not changing to sustainable practices.

    • Sirenia 5.2

      It is the level of evidence that is required to prove you have no money to feed their families that is the problem for many desperate people. I imagine that would be quite hard for farmers if they were required to provide the same detailed information as others are. I would just like a level playing field for farmers and others seeking benefit support – and then they might be some solidarity and empathy for those coping with never ending poverty.

  6. weka 6

    The issue isn’t lack of rainfall, it’s how the land is being farmed. If you want to farm in a very hot dry place then you have to adapt your practices to fit in with and take their cues from the local climate and soil, not adapt farming practices that were developed in rainy, cloudy England.

    The crucial issue is not so much how water falls on the land, but what happens to it once it does. In NZ, conventional farming uses practices that dry out the land. Instead we could be using practices that keep the water moving within the landscape instead of evaporating or running off. These practices are all used in drier climates than NZ. They can be used small scale or large scale, rural and urban.

    Here are a couple of examples,

    Swale animation, showing how water harvesting ditches on contour rehydrate the landscape and in some cases re-establish springs (1min38) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFeylOa_S4c

    Swale and hugelkultur, how to harvest water passively, and how to use buried carbon mass to hold water in the land (7mins) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ima_ff5xVH4

    The classic Greening the Desert slide show (5 mins), showing establishment of food production in the first year in Jordan which has the driest climate per head of population in the world, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sohI6vnWZmk

    John Liu’s documentary of restoring landscapes that are in the process of becoming deserts (this applies to much of the east of the South Island). 47 mins, but worth the watch for anyone that wants to understand what makes land sustainable. It also demonstrates how restoring land brings benefits to the people who live there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBLZmwlPa8A

    • stever 6.1

      I agree.

      But in fact the average annual rainfall in Canterbury is higher than in southern england. I think that overall England’s average is about the same as Canterbury’s, almost our driest region.

      http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/United-Kingdom/average-yearly-precipitation.php

      http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/map/19595/new-zealand-annual-rainfall

      So I’d echo your point…we have to stick to growing what that climate in Canterbury can support. Look at East Anglia in England…much lower rainfall than Canterbury, and they’ve learned to grow appropriately (though the mega-fields might have been a bad idea for wildlife….)

      • weka 6.1.1

        It’s not just about annual rainfall though. Cloud cover/sunshine hours effect evaporation. Length of time between rainfall matters, and in turn how much falls at a time. How dry is the air? How much wind is there? A significant aspect of Canterbury’s climate is the hot N/W. Longitudinal differences between NZ and the UK will mean NZ is hotter and therefore drier.

        Not sure what’s happening in East Anglia, but if they are using artificial inputs and relying on fossil fuels, then it’s not sustainable. They’ll get away with that for longer if they are farming better suited to climate, but it’s still going to be net loss to the environment over time.

    • Tiro 6.2

      John Liu’s documentary : Green Gold is indeed worth watching!
      I like some of the comments like:
      “the Source of Wealth is functioning ecosystems” and
      “We can not let ignorant people abuse the land”

    • b waghorn 6.3

      I don’t think you can us the Jordon model when discussing land degrading it looks from the john liu’s doco that they have basically over stocked and set stocked for thousands of years.
      They could learn a thing or to from kiwi dry stock farmers on subdivision and rotation to keep pastures healthy.

      • weka 6.3.1

        I think we’re just not as far down the path as the Loess Plateau in China, or as Jordan. And yet NZ farmers overstock and overgraze, and when drought hits they have to sell stock to survive. I think the main difference is that China (the Loess Plateau) had large numbers of people stock grazing for very long periods of time and eventually even rotating and other methods wouldn’t have been enough. Too much pressure on the land. And they didn’t have the mitigating effects of fossil fuels for most of that (eg irrigators).

        In NZ, we’ve had less time to do damage and more of that time has had the support of technology and artificial fertilisiers that themselves create problems but mask them in the short and med term. But we still have too much pressure on the land, and we have land that becomes marginal and then you have to stop grazing it. How is that any different? In other words, we’re on the same path. Can’t really argue that the east of the SI is going to be in better condition in 50 years time than it is now, even leaving CC aside. Or even 20 years. Unless we change.

        Every time I see a photo like that on the front page of the ODT today http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/332960/we-are-tough-times I think about the Loess Plateau. There is a reason that that man is standing in an almost desert, and it’s not the lack of rainfall.

        Compare that photo (enlarge it for full effect), to this one,

        http://milkwood.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/allansavory2.jpg

        “Holistically Managed ranch is on left, desertifying ranch is on right. This is in a climate with 200mm annual rainfall in South Africa”

        http://www.milkwood.net/2013/06/06/get-ready-were-presenting-allan-savory-in-august/

        That’s less rainfall than half the annual rainfall at Middlemarch (Strath Taieri). And still more than Middlemarch’s annual rainfal in this drought year which is 2/3 of normal.

        (all fairness to the Strath Taieri farmer who is only doing what he has been taught and advised by professional advisors).

        • b waghorn 6.3.1.1

          I looked at the that top photo you linked to and thought I could go into a patch of my farm and get the same picture ,I’m dry here but no drought it’s just February .

          • weka 6.3.1.1.1

            Have you had normal rainfalls in the past 6 months?

            I don’t know the Strath Taieri that well, but one of the ODT reports talked about a lot of wind. I’m guessing that this a significant part of the SI ‘drought’. Do you get that up your way?

            • b waghorn 6.3.1.1.1.1

              Weather here according to the locals can’t be trusted any more . up until 10 years ago Taumarunui was classed as summer safe I found records once on the net but Havn’t been able to relocate them that had our average at 120 mm a month through summer ,I’m in my third summer here this has been the best one of them rain wise and I’ve recorded 90mm since mid DEC .

  7. Ray 7

    Yes the farmers who apply have to line up with other citizens who require help
    Yes they need full documentation which is complicated by the fact that having just sold capital stock they appear to be rolling in it.
    And this means not many bother
    I see the ever generous Goverment has budgeted $120,000 to cover other drought expenses (doesn’t include benefits )

    It is worth remembering that there is nothing new about drought on the East Coast, there being evidense going back 500 years

  8. Poission 8

    Weather extremes are going to be the new normal. Droughts in many areas will only get worse from here

    How?

    Explain the mechanism,

  9. Ennui 9

    Why was it uphill and into the wind? Obviously you were going the wrong way.

    As to drought on good wet years the water and cash cups runneth over. On bad years both drain away. We are however always asked for more water regardless.

  10. Ennui 10

    You realise Rob if you went the other way the wind and slope would have done the same….only pain may come from exercise. I used to despise cycling into the Chch nor easter, a cruel and callous breeze.

    • r0b 10.1

      A comment worthy of your name Ennui! Ahh, cycling in Chch, used to do 6km to high school and 6km home again every day. Rain, frost, shine or heatwave…

      • grumpystilskin 10.1.1

        “Rain, frost, shine or heatwave…”
        All in one day if I remember correctly!

        I heard of the drought on RNZ this morning, couldn’t help but think FFS are you not expecting it, and you call yourself farmers, people of the land?
        It reminded me of gillard going on about rebuilding after the floods with words to the effect of “we will rebuild and control natures forces” , had to laugh at her stupidity.

  11. aerobubble 11

    In order to maximize wealth, the revolutionary conservatives mantra that is supposed to save us all, actually fuel unnecessary activities using up non-renewables, and created not only the pollution crisis that is cliate change, but removed the ability of soceiety to adapt, whther media mogals laughing at freaky greens, or money talking louder than anyone, ans removing democraic input to govt.

    why we are not adapting, wealth of the world is tied to destroying the planet duh.

  12. Jane 12

    Oh yes, sadly, droughts are a fact for our future.

    Many folks are saying that this fact is not true, but even N.A.S.A. confirmed that many areas of the world will be hit by massive droughts up to the end of this century.

    Areas like New Zealand, Asutralia, the U.S. and Africa will all be hit by massive droughts which will last (some of them) even a few decades, and a situation like this can lead even to serious agricultural issues that will harm the ecosystems in all these areas.

    http://www.alternative-energies.net/n-a-s-a-warns-with-major-droughts-in-the-u-s-if-the-pollution-continues/

  13. ropata 13

    ironic that canterbury and taieri plains were enormous marshlands until people came along and drained them.

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