22 Dec 2023

On the Farm - a wrap of conditions on farms around the country

From Country Life, 7:07 pm on 22 December 2023
Mistletoe in Central Otago.

Mistletoe in Central Otago. Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Grass growth in Northland is still romping along. The region hasn't had rain for a week, after non-stop wet. It means the grass market is strong and our contact says you'd have to be doing something wrong not to have grass at the moment. He was at the sale yards when we called and reported pleasing prices for heifers, steers and bulls.

The Pukekohe district is rapidly drying out thanks to regular westerlies. Irrigation is now in full swing on various crops. Growers are seeing an increase in thrips because of the warmer weather but disease control is not a problem. Other crops like watermelon are growing well and potato crops are producing good yields at harvest. Compared with last year, the last four months have seen as much as 20 per cent less rainfall.

Waikato is in a good place. Drizzly rain earlier in the week mixed with warmer weather has caused the grass to go crazy. It means there's now enough grass to cut for silage again. Our contact says it's the best spring he's ever had. His chicory crops are coming through and he's about to put the first mob in the paddock. Father Christmas also found time to stop in for a visit at the local club, and there was a big turnout of rural children there to say hello. 

A kiwifruit orchard is nearing the end of flowering.

Photo: Leah Tebbutt

Wind in Bay of Plenty last week caused some damage to gold kiwifruit. Proximity marks have appeared, which happens when fruit bang together and produce a dark spot. It's something you might see later in the season, and growers are hopeful the marks won't be noticeable as the fruit grows bigger. The advice came out last week to start irrigating as soil moisture is getting low.

December has been not too bad in King Country. Plenty of rain to keep the grass growing and bucket loads of sunshine are helping the lambs to thrive. Ewe stock condition is not good thanks to a poor spring but cattle condition is better. The icing on the cake would be a little bit more rain to keep things going. Our contact is shutting the front gate and heading off farm for the first time in seven years this Christmas. The first thing on the agenda is a swim paired with a beer and some fish and chips. 

A cow wearing a helmet made out of hay bales sitting on a makeshift quad bike.

Photo: Supplied

Everything is still looking reasonable and green in Taranaki. Here, too, the wind has proved an issue as any rain that falls is sucked out. It's also knocked the maize around a little bit. Thankfully the rain that has managed to seep into the ground has brought the crop back. There is also plenty of sun. Our farmer got burnt for the first time this year - a good reminder to put that sunscreen on.  

Nice warm days in Te Tairāwhiti have paddocks looking a lot better than they were a month ago. Lamb weights are well behind where they would normally be due to a lack of sunshine in spring. Cropping farmers have also had a challenging couple of weeks without enough sunshine and too much rain has drowned maize crops. It had to be replanted two or three times. However, feed levels are good so even if the dry does kick in, most farmers should be okay. 

Stock are really happy in Hawkes Bay. There's plenty of grass around thanks to awesome growth through November. Farmers have been able to make plenty of store feed which is good, as our contact says no one has any money to see them through a drought. The start of the month saw some rain and the heat is just starting to come out now - it's given crops a great start and they're looking a lot better than last year. There's the feeling now that farmers are ready for whatever the season throws at them. 

Santa waves hello on his big red tractor.

Santa waves hello on his big red tractor. Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

December started under average in Wairarapa. However the last few days the sun has shone here too. It's a viticulturalist's dream! And after all the ups and downs of the last three years, a wine grower says it finally feels like something is going right. Flowering has just finished on the vines and the early signs are promising. Sheep and beef farmers are still positive with grass growth and lambs coming right after a tough start to the season.  

Nelson is drying down slowly. No substantial rain through December and winds, though humid, have meant even the underground water levels in the whole of the region are very low for this time of year. A preliminary meeting of the dry weather task force was held to try and manage water use across the district. Two areas are already on restrictions - it's been the driest spring for quite some time. The grass is burning off and those making hay aren't seeing the grass come back unless they irrigate. Apples and pears are coming along with reasonable crops. Stone fruit is being picked now - but unfortunately for consumers, prices are up as there is less fruit about. 

It's been a pretty good December on the West Coast. There was enough fine weather when needed to take off silage and get crops in the ground. Growth has been phenomenal. So much so, it's been impossible to manage. Mating has also gone fairly well. Our contact says farmers are happy, and it couldn't have worked out better for the many farmers that had gone back to basics, cutting nitrogen and other expenses to keep costs down.

The strip-tilled fodder beet after the hail, looking pretty bashed up

The strip-tilled fodder beet after the hail. Photo: Supplied

Canterbury has had a mixed bag of weather, however, it does feel like it has finally settled down with the current temperature sitting just over 30 degrees. Farmer optimism is not great with high input prices and interest rates and low prices for their products. There's a twinkle of hope with the new government but change will take a while to flow through. It's a busy time on the farm with baleage being made and crops being sprayed. Last week a significant hail storm rolled through the upper plains and our contact had severe damage to spinach, hybrid radish, barley and fodder beet crops all in the space of two to three minutes. Disappointing after all the work that has gone into them. 

In the space of three weeks in Otago the fire risk has heightened sharply. The region hasn't had substantial rainfall for a month and the ground could do with some moisture. Irrigation is holding things, and it's had to start earlier than usual. There looks to be a medium-sized yield on the grapes and early-season cherries are tasting delicious - although the yield was low, so heed the advice to grab them before they're gone.  

Southland has had a pretty good spell. Farmers are still getting good rain but things are certainly starting to dry off. Cows have dropped off their peak milk, most likely due to mating. Results were looking good in the first six weeks, but it always looks good before scanning. So hopefully the good results remain.