Community and businesses stick together for North Canterbury drought recovery

North Canterbury’s drought-affected rural community has been bolstered this month by both some welcome showers, and reaffirmation of support by local businesses and sector organisations.

Waiau River

As tentative hopes were raised that it’s the beginning of the end for the longest drought in living memory in North Canterbury, local agribusinesses and sector organisations confirmed their commitment to farmers and growers as they get back on their feet, at an MPI-hosted seminar in Christchurch.

The Hurunui Drought Response Committee was heartened by the support of local businesses, says chair and Hurunui District Mayor Winton Dalley. For two years, the drought committee - made up of the Rural Support Trust, MPI, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers, North Canterbury vets, Dairy NZ, Rural GP, and local farmers - has been keeping track of the drought’s effects on farm and family, providing events for advice and conversation, and helping to get people off the farm for events or short breaks.

“Behind the scenes we have coordinated the Rural Support Trust, local farmers, sector organisations and businesses all pulling together to help the community get through what sometimes seems to be a never-ending drought,” the collective response and support has been amazing and greatly appreciated,” says Winton.

With soil moisture levels across Canterbury still well below normal, low aquifer levels and streams and ponds not yet recharged, effects of the big dry are felt throughout the rural communities. According to Environment Canterbury, the driest areas have received 59 percent of their normal annual rainfall in 2016 and this follows only 50 percent of normal in 2015.

“It’s been going on long enough that our rural towns and support industries around farming are unable to avoid the knock-on effects,” says the Mayor.

Despite this, agribusiness representatives have clearly shown their ongoing willingness to go the extra mile to help keep their community going. By working with their customers – in some cases special discounts and deferred payments to help them through the current tight spot – local businesses are proving key to helping the community through until soil moisture improves.

Farmers themselves have become spokespeople for their neighbours and impromptu event and sponsorship organisers, reaching rural people who otherwise can end up isolated. As an example, a recent Farm Break event hosted on a local farm at Andy Fox’s shed attracted more than 400 people and was supported by two dozen local and national businesses.

“What’s really heartening is that even some city people are still coming with offers of help and support,” says Rural Support Trust Chair Doug Archbold.

“Last month after I featured speaking on Radio Live, a lady from Christchurch called me up asking how she could help families with young children. I put her in touch with a family going through a really difficult time and she generously donated them a huge amount of pet food for the children’s pets; laundry powder, cleaning products and a cash gift.

“And a Christchurch service club is giving a generous donation to one of our "cheer up" BBQs later in the spring,” adds Doug.

“It shows that people really care in Canterbury.”

Winton agrees.

“With such a strong community and the support of businesses, everyone in the Hurunui is working hard to come out of this drought not only intact, but stronger and wiser than ever.”

Rural Support Trusts
Rural Support Trusts can be contacted on 0800 RURAL HELP for free and confidential advice for any rural farmer, grower, or family member. Trusts are staffed by local people and are available in peacetime as well as when there is an event such as a drought.

Background: Medium-scale event recovery measures
The drought covering Canterbury, Marlborough and parts of Otago was first classified as a medium scale event in February 2015, and has twice been extended. Currently standard medium-scale drought assistance measures remain in place until 31 December 2016.