Dealing with drought conditions

Find information and resources on dealing with drought conditions, how MPI assesses the severity of dry conditions and the process for classifying droughts.

Keeping track of conditions

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) works with local stakeholders and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) to monitor conditions around the country and their impact on rural communities.

NIWA with the support of MPI developed the New Zealand Drought Index. The tool was launched on 24 March 2017. It will monitor the drought status of every district in the country.

Weekly NIWA update available 

NIWA also produces Hotspot watch – a weekly update describing soil moisture across the country to help assess whether severely to extremely dry conditions are occurring or are imminent. 

How we classify droughts 

Like all adverse events, a drought is classified as either localised, medium-scale or large-scale.

MPI doesn’t declare droughts.  Rather, we work with local stakeholders when there is a natural disaster or climatic event (storm, flood, drought, earthquake) to identify how it should be classified based on its impact on the rural sector.

We use the classification system to assess what recovery measures may be needed for farming families who are impacted by the event. If MPI does not formally classify an adverse event as medium-scale or large-scale, the event is considered localised.

NIWA monitors soil moisture deficits and its drought index forms one of the criteria that MPI takes into account.

The process of classification and determining what recovery measures are needed is not only about how dry the weather has been. We also consider:

  • options available for farmers to prepare for the event
  • the likelihood and scale of the physical impact
  • the ability of the local community to cope socially and economically.

Based on that information, we advise the Minister for Primary Industries on the scale of the event. The minister then decides what support and recovery measures should be made available.

Medium-scale and large-scale events acknowledged by the government can trigger recovery measures such as additional funding for Rural Support Trusts to help their communities. The support available during a localised event, such as tax relief assistance and standard hardship assistance, can be accessed through self-declaration.

How information is gathered

At MPI our role focuses on the level of support that may be needed in adverse events like droughts.

We gather our information by monitoring the ongoing dry conditions and keeping in regular contact with industry and:

  • Rural Support Trusts
  • regional policy agents
  • regional district councils
  • local civil defence emergency management groups
  • other government agencies.

Help is available

Every year there are periods of dry weather that can have a disruptive impact on farms and local farming communities.

It's important for individuals and farmers to be aware of what they can do to prepare for these climatic events, and that resources are available for farmers and their families to help with farm management during the drier months.

Support for localised events

During localised events the type of support available to farming communities includes:

  • access to New Zealand's network of charitable Rural Support Trusts that are set up throughout the country to co-ordinate drought recovery activities
  • assistance around flexibility with tax payments through Inland Revenue
  • standard hardship assistance provided by Work and Income.

More information is on the websites of Rural Support Trusts, the Inland Revenue and Work and Income.

Support for medium-scale and large-scale events

Medium-scale and large-scale events acknowledged by the government can attract recovery measures such as additional funding for Rural Support Trusts to assist their communities with co-ordination of drought recovery activities.

During medium-scale and large-scale events, affected farmers may have access to:

  • rural assistance payments
  • income equalisation
  • technology transfer
  • community pastoral care through their local Rural Support Trust.

Find out more

Farm management support

Practical advice and help about managing farms during drought conditions is available from Dairy NZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

Who to contact

If you have questions about the drought information on this page, email

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