© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Sheep going hungry over dry winter

Luisa Osborne
Port Hills Drought
The port hills are in their second year of drought.   Luisa Osborne

It's the second dry winter in a row, and farmers on the Peninsula are feeling its full force.

A dry winter is expected to hit again, and Canterbury farmers are saying it's becoming an unwanted trend. 

Port Levy farmer Chris Chamberlain says he's having to cut back on the amount of sheep on his farm as there's simply nothing for them to eat. 

He says the critical months for growing food for stock is during autumn and spring, and due to a dry winter last year, the food just isn't there. 

"You farm in full knowledge that you farm with Mother Nature... and she doesn't always deliver, and sometimes she over-delivers."

The Banks Peninsula farmer says because of its hilly location they only harvest what nature can deliver - not relying on tractors or irrigation. 

"If it is a trend that it's drying, we'll adjust."

Adjustments can include fewer pregnant sheep, and changing breeds of stock to a hardier type. 

He says local farmers are getting together to figure out ways of working with drier conditions. 

Senior scientist at Manaaki Whenua/Landcare Research Dr Nick Cradock-Henry says farmers can often deal with one or two difficult years of farming - however prolonged dry conditions can put undue pressure of all aspects of the farm. 

"Repeated, or prolonged dry conditions, however, exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, placing undue pressure on household finances, personal relationships, livestock, and other aspects of the production system." 

Senior scientist at AgResearch Dr Robyn Dynes says drought conditions present very specific and serious challenges for farmers. 

She says having a plan in advance is key.

"Early planning and decision-making around stock and feed are critical where to comes to reducing the impact of the dry conditions that are increasingly affecting many of our farmers, landowners and rural communities."