Preparing for El Niño

El Niño is a climate pattern that can cause weather to be more extreme in areas of the Pacific Ocean, including New Zealand. MPI and other agencies help farmers and growers affected by El Niño events. Find out what you can do to prepare, and where to get advice and information.

What is El Niño? 

El Niño is the end of a natural cycle known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation. During this cycle, changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation warm the central and eastern tropical Pacific. Warming of the ocean affects climate across the Pacific.

El Niño occurs every 3 to 7 years on average. It usually peaks during the late Southern Hemisphere spring or early summer and then weakens the following year. 

Impact on New Zealand 

Because each El Niño is different, it's hard to predict its impact on our climate. The effects of El Niño vary depending on the time of year and part of the country.  


  • Stronger or more frequent westerly winds 
  • Dryer conditions in the east 
  • More rain in the west. 


  • More southerly winds 
  • Cooler temperatures. 

Spring and autumn 

  • Stronger or more frequent south westerlies 
  • Mix of summer and winter effects. 

Preparing for El Niño 

El Niño increases the chances of more frequent and extreme adverse weather events. If you are a farmer or grower, you need to be prepared.   

MPI produced a fact sheet to help farmers prepare for the El Niño event in 2015 and 2016.

Download the Preparing for El Niño fact sheet [PDF, 538 KB]

What you can do to prepare 

  • Have a plan in place with set dates for decisions depending on climate conditions. Discuss your plan with trusted advisers and update it over time.  
  • Make decisions early and take action.  
  • Pastoral farmers – feed is key. 
  • Conserve feed surplus and assess the potential for summer feed crops. 
  • Use a feed budget to meet your planned stock numbers, and act on deficits early.
  • Prioritise stock for destocking early and feed the remainder as well as possible.  
  • Use irrigation water efficiently and plan for water restrictions.  
  • Have a realistic budget, and monitor it. 
  • Monitor seasonal forecasts and extreme weather and fire warnings.  
  • If you’re new to farming or to El Niño, talk to experts who have been through an El Niño event before:
    • your neighbours
    • bank advisor
    • accountant
    • vets
    • professional advisers
  • Make time for yourself, your staff, and your family. Look out for your neighbours. Sometimes a few hours away from the business can make a huge difference.  
  • Look after your animals and regularly monitor their condition.  
  • Ask for help if you need it.  

Where to go for advice and information 

Agencies are ready to help you with support and advice. Start with your local Rural Support Trust. 

Click on any of the following topics to reveal more information.

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Animal welfare

Early planning is key

Make early decisions on feed budgets and source alternative stockfeed supplies well before you may need them. Have a plan with trigger points for other solutions, such as destocking. 

Find out more

Mental and financial wellbeing
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
Water management

Prepare, review, check

Prepare a water budget, regularly review soil moisture levels and crop requirements, and check that water equipment is performing well.

Find out more
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