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Hastings council confirms contribution to drought relief fund

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Keen to support the district’s rural community who are battling the drought, Hastings District Council agreed today to contribute $200,000 to the Mayoral Drought Relief Fund.

While farmers in Hawke’s Bay are well accustomed to dealing with drought, this summer’s dry conditions have been more prolonged and widespread than normal, and have stretched farmers’ ability to source feed.

The seriousness of the situation prompted the region’s four mayors and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to create a Mayoral Drought Relief Fund to help farmers buy enough feed to get stock through the winter.

The fund will pay for feed to be shipped from the South Island where it is available, and the Rural Advisory Group and Rural Support Trust will work closely with feed co-ordinators to ensure feed gets to the farms where it is most needed.

The Hastings District Council contribution will add to $500,000 pledged to the fund by the Government this week along with to date $200,000 from Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, $50,000 from Central Hawke’s Bay District Council and another $50,000 from consumer-owned electricity lines company Centralines.

Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the Hastings District Council’s contribution towards the fund will help relieve some of the stress and hardship being felt by our farming community.

“The COVID-19 lockdown has added to the daily strain and isolation felt by our farmers as they struggle to survive the drought.  I’ve heard from one farmer who had 1800 sheep this time last year and now has none, which is devastating for them.

“Pastoral farming is one of the biggest contributors to our economy – bringing in $500 million, not including the positive flow-on effects to other industries including agricultural support services, transport, utilities and retail so it’s going to take a long time for them to recover.

“We need to get behind our farmers and support them as they face further challenges in coming months, and we will be talking to the wider community about their support to see if we can build the drought relief fund up to $2 million.”

The Hastings Rural Community Board recommended council contribute to the fund and board chair Nick Dawson said this year’s drought in Hawke’s Bay was unprecedented, not only in its severity but also the complications and isolation COVID-19 had created for farmers.

“We are seeing immense pressure on our rural community with little or no stock feed, dams drying out and no substantial rain forecast.

“This has become an emergency event and the regional fund will be set up to source, transport and allocate stock feed where required.

“Hawke’s Bay relies on its rural sectors’ prosperity and now more than ever primary producers are called upon for export dollars. It will be comforting for the rural community to know we are pulling together and our resilience will come through again.”

Farmer and former Hastings Rural Community Board chairman Peter Kay said that while the COVID-19 lockdown hadn’t helped, the situation was all about the drought for farmers.

“We are starting winter with very little feed and small grass growth prospects. Most farmers have exhausted their usual winter supplementary feed supply and are buying in feed at exorbitant prices. 

“We know this may be financially crippling but the most important aspect is the effect declining body condition of their stock is having on farmers’ minds and wellbeing.”

He said initiatives such as the Mayoral Drought Relief Fund and rural support groups were invaluable to farmers.

“This is not only from a monetary and feed source point of view, but mostly as a morale booster for not just the farmers but also their wives and partners, who have to bear the brunt of these effects on a domestic level. They need recognition for what they are doing as well.”

The $200,000 funding from Hastings District Council and other contributors will be held in Trust by the Hawke’s Bay Disaster Relief Trust, and funded from the Rural Flood and Emergency Event Reserve.

22 May 2020

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