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The Minister for Primary Industries needs to officially declare a drought and mobilise the support mechanisms in place for farmers before it’s too late, National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.

“NIWA’s Drought Index shows that most of the North Island is already either in drought or headed towards severe drought without substantial rain soon, and Westpac has today announced a relief package for farmers who’re already feeling the pressure.

“The Drought Index is a new scientific tool to help the Minister confirm when areas are in need of Government support, but it is being ignored.

“Damien O’Connor appears more focussed on rebranding MPI than supporting farmers and growers, proving yet again he was serious when he said the new Government would be “no friend of the farmer”.

“Worryingly, Rural Support Trust chair Neil Baker has confirmed the support line is taking more calls than ever from stressed farmers.

“The pressures drought brings are enormous. Watching helplessly as pasture and waterways evaporate, and livestock begin to suffer, is soul-destroying.

“Farmers are not immune to depression, and their isolation doesn’t help matters.

“Overarching all of this is the lack of clarity around irrigation projects. The Government is rapidly backing its way out of obligations to fund water storage and irrigation projects, and there has been talk of Shane Jones’ $1 billion regional development fund being used to help ‘localised’ water storage projects - but there has been no clarification as to what ‘localised’ actually means.

“Farmers, growers and rural communities deserve certainty about what is happening with these projects, instead of being made to anxiously wait while officials report back to Ministers by the end of summer.

“In the meantime, I urge Damien O’Connor to declare a medium scale adverse drought event, and at least enable some short term relief for farmers,” Mr Guy says.

To access the NIWA Drought Index go to the NIWA websitehttps://www.niwa.co.nz/climate/information-and-resources/drought-monitor

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