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New Zealand, lying in the South Pacific Ocean approximately 1,200 miles east of Australia, is subject to recurring droughts. Its two main islands are long and narrow, with high mountain ranges and hill country bisecting them from north to south. The predominant westerly winds, along with the mountain ranges and hill country, produce a marked orographic effect. Thus, the western side of the country, in general, records significantly higher annual average rainfall totals than does land on the eastern side.
The country has experienced a number of severe droughts throughout its history, especially in the east, where a number of extended periods of low rainfall have severely affected pastoral agriculture (historically New Zealand’s major industry). Droughts that extend across autumn and/or spring are generally the most severe in terms of their effects on grass production at crucial stages of the growing season. Recent research on farmers’ responses to drought suggests that many farmers tend to “farm for droughts,” by ensuring that stock numbers are low throughout the summer months, which are generally expected to be dry (Keen, 1995).