Monday, 11 March 2013

Droughts cause pain for farmers and government

Post written by R. Cretney.

While it is now raining in some parts of the country - widespread declaration of drought has been one of the top news stories last week. The regions of Northland, South Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and Hawke's Bay were first to be announced as drought zones. The government soon followed by declaring the whole North Island a drought zone this week. 

Some media stories are even declaring this the worst drought to ever strike New Zealand. This drought follows similar events in 2007, 2008 and 2010 indicating support for NIWA's prediction of more frequent and severe droughts in the next 30 years.

This image shows the soil moisture deficit as of 6th March 2013 compared to the same time in 2012 and the historical average deficit.

These events have severe impacts on farmers leading to reduced milk production, increased requirement for supplementary feed leading to increased expenses and financial losses.

Such an event also shows the potential effect of climate change on rural livelihoods and the national economy. Bill English recently said that farmers need to adapt to these changes as it is not sustainable for the government to continue provide financial assistance to farmers.

Such pressure from the weather and government may influence farmers to change their practices leading to changes in land-use patterns. This will be explored in a new research programme led by NIWA and Landcare Research

However, the long-term forecast is not necessarily bad for farmers, as one Motu paper by Stroombergen covered. This paper explores the potential effects of long-term climatic influence on NZ agriculture - including the impacts on the value of commodities we sell and the chance that increased CO2 will lead to higher production of some crops. Overall he assesses that the overall economic benefits may outweigh the losses from changes in average temperature and precipitation; he is however unable to assess the impact of extreme events such as droughts which may be where the real climate costs for agriculture bite.

Post written by R. Cretney.

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