Thursday, 12 May 2016

Consequences of the North Island drought

Isn’t it lovely weather?”

Not a thought about where their food comes from. Sorry – from the superamarket.


North Island carrot supply - and jobs - at risk after dry months
Ohakune vegetable farmers are concerned they might not be able to wash their crops if it doesn't rain soon.

11 May, 2016

The North Island could be at risk of a carrot shortage due to a lack of rainfall in the Ruapehu district.

A dry April and May meant stream levels in the district have dropped to alarming levels, which could see a shutdown of vegetable distribution if there is no rain overnight.

Horizons Regional Council's Ruapehu councillor Bruce Rollinson, a vegetable grower based at Ohakune, said the flow on the Mangawhero stream – where they take water from – was expected to drop below a minimum standard if it didn't rain.

"What that means is, we'd have to turn off all our pack houses that use surface water in that system to wash vegetables.

"If we can't wash them, there will be no produce from Ohakune, which is the only winter supply of those veges."

About eight truck and trailer loads went out every day carrying about 300 tonnes of carrots, potatoes, parsnip, brussel sprouts and swede. About 70 per cent of those loads were at risk.

"That would have to stop."

"It won't require much [rain], but it will require consistent rainfall."

Rollinson said the stream was only about 5-6 litres below the minimum flow, but they would be unable to use any of it.

The minimum flow was 1020 litres per second and Rollinson expected that would drop on Thursday.

MetService duty meteorologist Arno Dyason said there was "rain on the doorstep" though it would not stick around.

Rain was expected overnight on Thursday, but would be gone by the morning.

"I wouldn't call it heavy," Dyason said.

Another small burst was likely on Friday morning.

"It will definitely help," he said.

Rollinson said there were also implications for workers.

"There are 60 jobs that, if we have to do that [shutdown], are at high risk."

Ohakune market gardener Malcolm Greenwood was also getting concerned.

"It has been getting pretty nerve-wracking really. If we don't get rain we can't wash tomorrow and that's pretty worrying. We've got a good 40 tonnes of carrot sitting in the shed and you don't want them sitting too long.

"Tomorrow they might be alright, but the day after I might lose that 40 tonnes of carrots."

Washing meant the vegetables could last longer.

Greenwood said their vegetables were distributed all over the North Island.

"Especially around this time of year, Ohakune is it."

Rollinson said a minimum flow occurred had only occurred once in the last nine years.

"What we've got is an extremely dry April and May that has headed us into this."

He said that because there was no rainfall, there was no snow melt.

Growers did not have water storage because the issue did not happen often enough.

"We haven't done that, simply because one in nine years you have to weigh up is that worth it?"

Under the One Plan, dairy sheds and milking were allowed to continue because they were essential for animal health and food supply, he said.

Growers unsuccessfully argued for their inclusion for the same reason – "fresh vegetables deteriorate just like milk and they are an essential food supply".

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