Know your environment

Come rain, wind or drought, Kerry Dwyer steps up for his region’s climate.

In Environment5 Minutes

Come rain, wind or drought, Kerry Dwyer steps up for his region’s climate.

I didn’t get to the local Beef + Lamb event in early July, so read with interest the report that one of the speakers said of North Otago, “this is one of the worst environments in New Zealand”.

That could be a harsh indictment on my local area, which I like, because it is rather temperate by my reckoning. Like any region there are many microclimates within it, but by comparison with other areas we do not get the extremes. We are not as hot as Northland which topped the stakes for highest mean temperature for 2021, and missed the 39.4C high of Ashburton on January 27, 2021 by about 10C.

We don’t get the cold of Central Otago, although we did have a -5C in May last year, when the lowest elsewhere was approaching -10C.

North Otago is not as dry as Alexandra, which had the lowest NZ rainfall last year at 402mm. By the way, locals in the Hakataramea Valley thought it was great when they recorded the third lowest rainfall for 2021 at 487mm, in what was one of their better growing years. My rain gauge totalled 620mm for the 2021 calendar year.

Neither are we as wet as many areas. While I did wade through floodwaters on January 2, 2021, from a rainfall event of close to 100mm, our son farming at the foot of Mount Hutt had around 500mm in two days of May.

Historically my North Otago area was struck by droughts in the 1960s to 1980s, but in more recent times we have not seen their occurrence or severity to the same degree. People in Hawke’s Bay and North Canterbury have taken the brunt of drought in recent years.

And we are not as windy as Castlepoint, which regularly tops the airflow measurements. I have played golf at Pongaroa and Waimakariri Gorge, and think North Otago is blessed.

The point is, know your environment. I thought the Nevis Valley was about the worst environment in NZ, and North Otago is nothing like that. We farmers deal with climatic variation so need to have a good handle on what we face every day and every month of the year. The speakers at the Beef + Lamb seminar did emphasise the need for flexibility and resilience to deal with climatic variation, and with global warming changing the environment that makes good business sense.

When I look at my rainfall records for the past 10 years I see we have recorded 60% of annual rainfall in the growing months, from October to March. I don’t know how that compares with earlier data but think there has been some shift. That pattern has held true over the past 10 years, even though annual rainfall has ranged from 425mm to 790mm in my rain gauge. Looking at the growth rings on trees that I have cut down reinforces that we have had a run of good growing seasons in North Otago. Do you see any change of patterns in your environment?

One pattern that always strikes me in North Otago is that we have three consecutive dry months every year, with maybe 25mm per month or less. The seasonality of this is variable, and sometimes it stretches out to five or six months. Knowing this is likely to occur is being realistic rather than pessimistic for planning ahead. It is when it happens that we have to plan for, rather than if.

How harsh is your environment? Has it changed with time?

We have just finished July with 235mm in my rain gauge, and a little flood; along with the strongest nor’west gale since 2013.

  • Kerry Dwyer is a North Otago farm consultant and farmer.