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Happy farmer . . . North Otago Federated Farmers vice-president and dairy chairman Lyndon Strang at his farm near Five Forks. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Soil moisture levels in North Otago are on the rise, so much so that there is now a surplus, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
Due to vastly improved soil moisture levels in North Otago, the Ministry for Primary Industries did not extend the region’s drought classification at the end of December.
It marked the end of close to two years of difficult conditions for Waitaki farmers.
In February 2015, Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy announced a medium-scale adverse event in parts of Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough.
A medium-scale adverse event meant additional recovery measures could be made available to farmers and growers in the area.
That classification was extended in June 2016, and was in place until the end of December.
Niwa meteorologist Seth Carrier said soil moisture levels in North Otago were normal or near normal (inland) and would continue to rise throughout January.
However, that could be offset by a dry February, as overall rainfall over the next three months was expected to be “about normal”.
“Areas around Oamaru and Dunedin are actually in a moisture surplus . . . things are getting a lot closer to where they need to be for January and February, but we could be dealing with some fairly dry conditions in February.”
North Otago Federated Farmers vice-president and dairy chairman Lyndon Strang, who farms near Five Forks, said North Otago pastures, including non-irrigated land, were in the best shape they had been for a long time.
“We’re in a really good position,” Mr Strang said.
“It’s probably been one of the best Januarys, as far as moisture goes, we’ve had for many, many years. I’d say we’re at a soil moisture surplus now. If you look at the countryside, you’d have a very hard time determining the dry land from the irrigated properties right now.”
However, he warned that could change very quickly if there was a prolonged period of dry weather and winds.
“I think in summer in North Otago, you have to be very careful . . . it’s great at the moment, but things can change on a dime.”
According to the MetService, 82.6mm of rain had been recorded in Oamaru from January 1 to January 22.
Of that, 30.6mm fell on January 22.
An MPI spokeswoman said despite the classification not being extended, it would continue to work closely with Niwa, rural support trusts and sector organisations to monitor soil moisture levels and how rural communities were managing.