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Three-year drought did 'more harm' than quake

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 20/03/2017
North Canterbury farmers Hamish and Pip Pavey © RNZ / Maja Burry Hamish and Pip Pavey

For north Canterbury farmer Richard Wilding, three years of drought has been worse than the Kaikōura earthquake that wrecked his home.

The region has been in the grip of drought for three seasons and farmers say the 60mm of rain that fell last week does not mean their difficulties are over.

The government lifted the official drought declaration covering the east coast of the South Island at the start of the year, and rural assistance payments available for farmers in hardship expired last month.

Richard Wilding's 1800 hectare farm, Ferniehurst, runs alongside the Conway River, about 50km north of Cheviot.

Rupture lines from the quake run through paddocks and large slips have fallen including one that dropped 20ha of land into the Conway River.

Mr Wilding's home has been red-stickered and he and his wife are living in the cottage usually occupied by farm workers.

He said he would be repairing quake damaged fences and gates, essential to the running of the farm, for years to come.

But Mr Wilding said the drought had caused more problems.

"If you look at the farm books, the drought has done far more harm to us than the earthquake.

"During the drought we sold down from 350 cows to 125 - and they were our safety valve - and we are just building our numbers up again by degrees."

The only positive from the drought was that it had pushed them to look at different ways of farming and how to get the most out of the land.

Canterbury farmer Richard Wilding

Richard Wilding
© RNZ / Maja Burry

Across the river from the Wildings', Hamish and Pip Pavey have a sheep and cattle farm.

The impact of the drought and the earthquake on their farm had been massive, Mr Pavey said.

Their house too had been written off and the farm was left with hardly any stock-proof fences.

"We rely on dams in a number of blocks. There are cracks through the walls of them and they are actually only holding a third of the water so when you're looking at dry conditions I don't know what next summer will bring.

"Stock water in dams is going to be a major issue."

Trying to run the business when the house and farm were so damaged was made even harder by the isolation.

"We can go for days without seeing people. And the tough bit is, you're here by yourself, and everywhere you look it's broken."

Hurunui District councillor Vince Daly said while 60mm of rainfall was a good start, it was likely quake- and drought-hit farmers in the area would need support for years to come.

It was worrying that rural assistance payments had stopped. "There were some people, that's what they were paying their grocery bills on."

The Rural Support Trust's Cheviot representative, Liz Ensor, said morale was already low even before the setback of the November's 7.8 earthquake.

"Three years have been really difficult. It's been a time where you have been hopeful that 'oh yes we are going to get rain, this drought will go', but it doesn't. We've had this third season of it."

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