As Waikato farmers have felt the pressures of drought, the local Rural Support Trust has had to change the way it reaches out and provides support to those in need during the last two months.
Waikato Rural Support Trust chairman Neil Bateup, who also chairs The Waikato Primary Industries Cluster, says due to the Level 4 lockdown to fight the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand at least 15 community events – set to happen during a three-week period – to gather people during the drought had to be canned. “These events were a meet and greet for farmers and their neighbours, and a great morale boost for all who attend.”
Instead, WRST has run a lockdown challenge on their Facebook page, offered online webinars of expert advice and support, and has switched all of their face-to-face work for electronic modes of connection.
“We can’t do our usual face-to-face visits to farmers who ring us with stresses. Instead, we’re doing telephone, zoom or Skype catch-ups with them. So we’re still providing one-on-one support but just not face-to-face.”
Neil says it’s always better to sit down together if you can “but our electronic connections seem to be working so far”.
“We are processing Rural Assistance Payments using emails to process documents and taking photos and sending them in.
“It’s just a different way of working – but we are still providing support to people. Anybody that rings –we will still be here at the end of the phone to chat through the issues and try to get help for people in the way they need it.”
Neil says the trust has been fielding its usual enquiries plus extra calls from people about drought – but none regarding Covid-19. “We’ve had a number of phone calls with enquiries about RAPs,” says Neil. “People trying to see if they are eligible for them – plus a few queries about Gypsy Day, June 1.”
Farmers have been battling a very long hot summer drought, which has been unusually long in duration, says Neil. “Ongoing drought conditions are still proving to be an enormous ongoing challenge for farmers.”
Neil, who dairy farms near Huntly, says the areas most affected by drought in the WRST’s reach are South Auckland, eastern areas of the Waikato, Hauraki Plains and up the Coromandel Peninsula.
“They are the real crunch points. Some western areas and South Waikato have had rain, so farmers there are still affected but not so much as the crunch points.”
Neil says farmers’ main concern heading into winter and the new milking season is feed budgeting. And he says those who are autumn calving will be struggling – and will need to use all of their supplementary feed to keep cows going.
“It’s really about budgeting feed to try and get through winter and into next spring. So how do we exist on the feed we have available?”
Neil says most dairy farmers have planned well in the face of drought. “It has cost them a lot of money and feed and lost production, but they’ve handled it well and it would be nice to have some grass growth soon.”
His biggest piece of advice to farmers finding it tough and heading into next season is: “Just keep planning and feed budgeting”.
“If you’re unsure of where to go, there is a free feed budgeting service available through DairyNZ, Beef+Lamb NZ and AgFirst, so if anybody is unsure of what their position is please reach out for help.
“There is help available – and just plan, plan, plan.”
The Rural Support Trust’s helpline is 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP). Or get in touch online at: facebook.com/ruralsupportwaikato
To access new ‘Getting Support for your Feed Planning’ service, there are three toll-free numbers: Dry stock sector: Beef+LambNZ: 0800BEEFLAMB (0800 233 352); dairy sector: DairyNZ: 0800 4 DairyNZ (0800 4 3247969); AgFirst: 0508 AGFIRST (0508 243 477).
This service is available until June 30, 2020, at which time farmer need will be revised.