$200m investment into drought forecasting

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. File/photo. SunLive.


The Government is investing in the development of a new forecasting tool that makes full use of innovative climate modelling to help farmers and growers prepare for dry conditions, says Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. 

The new approach, which will cost $200,000, is being jointly funded through the Ministry for Primary Industries and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The new tools will aim to provide daily drought forecasts out to 35 days. Later, the project will also explore drought predictions up to six months ahead. NIWA currently provides seasonal climate outlooks each month that look three months ahead, but are not drought specific.

“We are harnessing the latest in climate and data science to put information into the hands of the people who can make the best use of it,” says O’Connor.

“Knowing well in advance when dry conditions are heading your way means you can cut your cloth accordingly at critical times on-farm. Having early warning can help determine stocking levels, water storage and feed management options.”

State-of-the-art data-driven techniques are being used by NIWA scientists to make these predictions more precise and more accurate for New Zealand, building on a weather model released in 2020 by the United States of America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Droughts are a part of farming, but when they extend for many months or affect large swathes of the country, they can have a major impact on rural communities,” says O’Connor.

The new forecast tool will be a companion to the New Zealand Drought Index. The index was developed by NIWA in conjunction with MPI and launched in 2017. It is used to determine the current status of drought across the country and measures the duration and intensity of recent dryness.

“With climate change, severe weather events are both more frequent and intense. So, it’s important we help farmers and growers get their businesses ready for future climate conditions,” says O’Connor.

The tool is expected to be available by the end of 2023. 

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