The declaration of a drought situation in Hawke's Bay may have been just the hurry-up the weatherman needed, with rain now forecast for much of Hawke's Bay and the East Coast early next week.
According to MetService 10-day forecasts last night, there will be rain from Hastings-north from Monday to Wednesday, and showers south into Wairarapa.
The hope came on the day Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy declared Hawke's Bay, the Bay of Plenty and Waikato "medium-scale drought" areas.
With Northland classified last week, and the latest move including the area of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council from Nuhaka to the Takapau Plains, all of the top half of the North Island except Gisborne and the East Coast is now officially in drought protection mode.
Not yet included but under close watch is Southern Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa, parts of the Horizons and Wellington regional council areas respectively, as well as the rest of the Horizons area through Manawatu and Wanganui, and Taranaki.
The swiftness of the ministerial decision, barely 15 hours after the drought declaration was sought at a meeting of farming, horticultural and community leaders, amazed Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson, who said it was "hellishly fast".
A drought committee is being formed and will meet before Easter, but Mr Wilson says the mechanisms are now in place for farmers to seek help, advice and support in trying to limit the impacts of the summer dry. For most, rain has fallen on only 2-3 days in the past six weeks, during what is being regarded as the driest six-month period in the region for more than half-a-century.
Pointing out that droughts were common in Hawke's Bay, Mr Wilson said: "We have to have the resources and expertise to make sure the right people are talking and listening to the right blokes at the right time."
Mr Wilson said some farmers were now reported to be using winter feed for their stock.
Mr Guy said government funds would now be available to rural support trusts, along with rural assistance payments from Work and Income.
"I realise these can be stressful times for rural families, and they need to know who to turn to for support," he said.
Mr Guy said farmers badly need some rainfall during March and April to help prepare for the winter and set up for next spring.
"The conditions are also creating challenges for lifestyle block owners and we urge them to take action early," he said.
The ministry's North Island resource policy manager, Stuart Anderson, told Radio New Zealand: "You get to the point where farmers across a large part of the North Island, in this case, are in a similar situation and can't really help each other."
Tukituki MP Craig Foss said the declaration was "recognition that we are now beyond what is a normal dry summer, and into an extreme climatic event".
"The entire North Island is now exceptionally dry and our rural sector needs our support," he said.