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...

Geophoto

Kacper Kowalski's aerial photos capture the graphic shapes of our…

Wildlife

Invasive species are considered one of the greatest threats to…

Nature

Professor Steve Fletcher, director of the Global Plastics Policy Centre…

Wildlife

The international conservation agreement CITES is nearly half a century old.…

Wildlife

With Scotland’s salmon under threat, environmental groups are planting trees…

Oceans

As coastal development continues to grow, research begins to reveal the…

Wildlife

Research into rhesus macaques on a remote island finds that survivors of…

Climate

 The release of the latest IPCC report suggests it's 'now…

Wildlife

A new technique to collect animal DNA from thin air could…

Wildlife

As animal species decline, plants that rely on them to…

Nature

Calls to make ecocide a crime are gaining ground

Wildlife

In South Africa, a new wave of poaching has taken…

Tectonics

A volcanologist unpicks the devastating eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai

Oceans

Some areas of the ocean are richer in microplastics than…

Oceans

The ocean floor is home to rich deposits of metals…

Climate

The industry will only keep growing. Could algae help to…

Nature

A monumental effort is underway to map the world’s fungal…

Geophoto

In his project Black Dots, Nicholas JR White set out upon the…

Wildlife

China’s Amur tiger population is recovering, reflecting the country’s changing…

Climate

Scientists are pushing back against the notion that the food…