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New Zealand suffers drought

wellington / reuters The New Zealand government declared a drought in key farming areas on the North Island March 6, with no significant rainfall in more than three months threatening to cost the economy NZ$1 billion ($828.35 million).

The affected areas include the major dairy-producing Waikato, south of the country’s biggest city Auckland, and horticultural regions Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay.

“This extended period of hot and dry weather over the last couple of months has left dairy and sheep and beef farmers alike with parched paddocks and burnt and stunted feed crops,” said James Houghton, Waikato president of the Federated Farmers group.

The official drought declaration gives farmers access to financial and social support.

Some of the affected regions have had around a third of their average rainfall this year, and only light falls are expected for the rest of the month.

Agriculture accounts for around a half of the country’s NZ$46 billion annual export earnings, with dairy produce the single biggest commodity.

The drought would likely weigh significantly on production and incomes, stretching out into next year, worth as much as NZ$1 billion ($830 million).

“The reduction in agricultural and primary production is likely to shave 0.5 per cent off GDP by the end of the year,” ANZ Bank rural economist Con Wilson said in a research note.

The dry conditions are forcing farmers to cut short milk production, cull animals, and buy in expensive supplement feeds.

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