5 Apr 2024

On the Farm - a wrap of conditions around the country

From Country Life, 7:12 pm on 5 April 2024
Zespri kiwifruit harvest

There's a good volume of gold kiwifruit coming off in Bay of Plenty and in beautiful condition. Photo: Zespri

In Northland, there's enough grazing on hand to keep farmers from cutting into their winter feed. Rain is needed though. Rates rise proposals are causing uncertainty. Meanwhile avocado growers are lamenting low returns and kumara growers have been disappointed by recent prices.

Around Pukekohe, the last few weeks have been notable for stable weather, sunshine and low rainfall. With the aid of irrigation, winter crops have been planted and established without major problems. At this stage growers say there should be no shortage of fresh vegetables during winter.

In Waikato, grass is belting away. It's been one of the best summers in recent years, our farmer contact says. Dairy cows are in good shape and May milking is looking good. Steady rainfall means summer pasture is transitioning well to rye grass for the winter. The cooler autumn weather has also reduced rates of facial eczema. 

There's a good volume of gold kiwifruit coming off in Bay of Plenty and in beautiful condition. There are plenty of avos too, but with low returns things are not looking so rosy there for growers. The labour shortage seen in recent years appears to have abated with a steady supply of RSE workers. 

Mt Taranaki

Mt Taranaki Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

King Country's grass growth is the envy of surrounding regions, with many farmers hanging onto lambs to fatten them up. California thistles are also having a great season, much to farmers' annoyance. Market conditions remain a challenge though, especially with low returns for wool and sheepmeat. Farmers are spending half what they would normally on fertiliser - as they "batten down the hatches".

It's a "green drought" in parts of Taranaki with enough rain to keep pasture green, but not growing. Herds are eating into their winter feed requirements and without good rain soon, many farmers will look to dry off their cows. Milk production is down on last year but early pregnancy scanning results for dairy cows are looking good, with about 12 to 13 percent empty, or not in calf.

Grass growth has also been good for farmers in Te Tai Rāwhiti, but here, too, high input costs and interest rates are putting the pressure on in the background. Fly strike has also been tough this year, with one contact even reporting cases of weiner strike - something he'd never seen before. The grape harvest finished early, with good quality grapes but lesser yields. Harvesting of sweetcorn, squash and watermelons has wound up and growers are now busy bringing in broccoli, lettuce and salads. There's plenty on the shop shelves - great for consumers. The quality of feijoas this season is said to be excellent and volumes good. However, prices are back about a dollar compared to last year.  

The quality of feijoas this season is said to be excellent and volumes good. However, prices are back about a dollar compared to last year.

The quality of feijoas this season is said to be excellent and volumes good. However, prices are back about a dollar compared to last year. Photo: Supplied

The apple harvest is underway in Hawke's Bay with still a month or so still to go and the quality is up with crunchier, more flavourful and more colourful apples. Labour is easy to come by and pickers and packers are flat out. Pastoral farmers would like to see some rain. Squash is coming off, onions have finished, and the maize harvest will soon start. Arable farmers are hurting from poor grain prices. Rising interest rates are a headache for many - 90-thousand dollars extra this year in interest for one 400-hectare block.

Parts of southern Manawatū and Horowhenua are very dry, with lots of dairy cows dried off or on once a day milking. Dairy prices look good but things are more dire for hill country farms. Northern parts of the district feel more comfortable having had more rain. The rams are out.

It's very dry in Wairarapa, but not the worst drought seen. Cropping farmers have seed in the ground, while many dairy farmers are feeding out and some are talking about drying off. The mood is okay, but again farmers are feeling the crunch of high costs and lower prices. Greytown's inaugural apple harvest festival is on this month, with cider tasting, apple juice, games for the kids on offer among the apple trees at Molewood Orchard on April 27.

Hop Harvesting

Hop harvesting and drying's finished for the season Photo: Supplied

The Tasman region is struggling with the dry weather so plenty of hay and balage are being trucked around the region. Very low aquifer levels have seen the Tasman District Council reduce irrigation quotas , making life pretty grim for all. Hop harvesting and drying's finished for the season. The newest varieties in hop gardens were closely monitored to ensure they're fit for purpose and productive. A Tapawera grower says there are some amazing aromas coming from the new plants. 

Due to the dry summer, farmers in the Marlborough Sounds destocked earlier in the year. There are still surplus lambs needing moving though, but our contact at Waitui says with the ongoing road closure issues and the required barge connections, it's been difficult to get them away. Calf weaning's planned in two weeks and overall, stock are in reasonable health. Some fencing's planned in spite of a very tight budget. A local mussel farmer says his crop's growing well. The harvesting window's set for next summer but he says the local industry has ongoing problems with sourcing a reliable supply of quality young mussels - mussel spat - to re-seed the long lines. 

Vineyards in drought-stricken Marlborough, autumn 2024

Vineyards in drought-stricken Marlborough at harvest time Photo: Mike Laven

A dairy farmer and rugby player in South Westland says there was a fantastic turnout at  Whataroa Rugby Club's 100 Year Centenary last weekend. He farms at Ross and says milk production's up five percent on last year, which was a record season. Pregnancy testing's done and dusted and TB testing's due to start next week. In a couple of weeks, farmers are looking forward to catching up at Ag Fest in Greymouth.

It's very dry in mid-Canterbury and irrigators are working hard. A Hororate farmers says harvesting is all but done with only hybrid radish to go. The ground is being prepared for sowing next year's crops. A dairy farmer in South Canterbury's Fairlie Basin says conditions are also dry, despite getting dribs and drabs of rain over the past 10 days. Due to a lack of quality grass, cows are on palm kernel as silage reserves are being held back for late winter.

Drought on North Canterbury farm.

Paddocks are dry in many parts of the coountry Photo: Supplied

Vineyards in Central Otago are well into grape harvesting. At Bannockburn, picking started five weeks ago for sparkling wines and rosés and last week pinot noir started coming off. Yields are looking good and the fruit's clean. Staff-wise things have recovered from the post-covid pinch with locals and RSE workers filling most harvesting roles in the region's vineyards. 

And finally to Southland and a farmer near Balcultha has had the fire going. She had 50 millimetres of rain in the gauge last week but it really wasn't needed. Grain harvesting is in full swing but with the rain it's been a bit stop-start and harvested grains are having to go through driers. Grass growth has been slow so dairy farmers are feeding out supplementary feed. Luckily, there's ample winter baleage in reserve. Rising two-year-old cattle and lambs have been going to the works and ewes are being shorn and crutched ready for the ram.