Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Kiwis dry out

Farmers are pressing the government to let them tap Lake Tekapo on New Zealand's south island Farmers are pressing the government to let them tap Lake Tekapo on New Zealand's south island Nokuro
07 Mar
2015
New Zealand suffered a record drought between 2012 and 2013, if current weather trends continue 2015 could prove to be even worse

‘Drought means different things to different people. They’re highly variable in New Zealand and, regionally speaking, one occurs here nearly every year. What made 2013 stand out was not only the intensity, but also the widespread nature of it,’ says Chris Brandolino, a forecaster at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. ‘For any modern farmer, that drought was the worst experienced.’

Similar high pressure conditions that led to low rainfall in 2012–2013 during the current dry spell, particularly this January, according to Brandolino. ‘It is possible that we’ll see more of these types of prolonged anomalous periods, particularly for the North Island, as a consequence of climate change,’ he adds. Soils are now very dry across most of the country. Also, many areas, such as Canterbury, have had unusually dry soils for a sustained period of three to four months. Central and local government, as well as private enterprises, are looking into several options for water storage and irrigation schemes. ‘Such schemes do mitigate the impact of droughts, but only until the stored water runs out or is severely depleted. In other words, local authorities are doing their best to administer water supplies,’ says Brandolino.

New Zealand’s farmers depend on irrigation, which uses groundwater and river resources. ‘There are strict rules for water extraction which limit these impacts,’ says Brandolino. A further complication is New Zealand’s reliance on hydroelectric power. The country generates over 50 per cent of its electricity from dams. Water held back for hydroelectric generation is a useful reserve for farmers, but power has to be balanced with agriculture. ‘Farming in NZ is mostly pasture-based and thus is at the mercy, to a large amount, of receiving enough rainfall to sustain pasture growth,’ says Brandolino.

When rainfall is lower than normal, even for as short a period as one month, the soils dry out quite rapidly due to shallowness and limited moisture holding capacity. ‘Without irrigation, grass growth is quickly impacted which obviously will have an effect on stock nutrition and productivity,’ adds Brandolino

‘Farmers have generally learned how to manage drought by way of destocking, clever farming, such as with drought resistant plants and also planning ahead for supplementary feeding,’ says Brandolino.

This story was published in the March 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

The winners of the most hotly anticipated photography competition have…

Polar

Artist and geographer Nick Jones was appointed artist in residence…

Oceans

Photojournalist Tommy Trenchard joins a research expedition to the Saya…

Climate

So far, carbon offsets have focused mostly on tree-planting. But…

Oceans

Marine scientists are often too few and too underfunded to…

Wildlife

Indigenous marmosets are under threat from released pets and forest fragmentation

Wildlife

A rare encounter with a leopard in the mountains of…

Oceans

The Saildrone Surveyor, a type of uncrewed autonomous vehicle, has…

Climate

Australia has the highest per-capita use of rooftop solar power…

Wildlife

Ecoacoustics – a way to listen in closely to the…

Wildlife

Ash dieback is set to transform the British landscape. Robert…

Geophoto

Photographer Patrick Wack documents documents changes in the Chinese province 

Climate

A growing tide of legal action is increasing pressure on…

Wildlife

Classifying a group of organisms as a separate species has…

Geophoto

Artist Sarah Gillespie used the historic mezzotint technique for her…

Geophoto

The winners of the 2021 competition of Earth Photo have…

Climate

As climate change dysregulates weather patterns, cases of pest explosions…

Polar

Arctic nations are gearing up to exploit the region’s abundant natural…

Climate

Combining solar farms with biodiversity-boosting plants could result in a…