3 May 2024

On the Farm - a wrap of conditions around the country

From Country Life, 7:12 pm on 3 May 2024
A jersey cow feeding on silage

Dairy herds are being dried off and cull cows are off to the works.  Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

In Northland farms are turning green and grass is starting to grow, now there's been some reasonable rain. Farmers have been re-grassing but pasture has been slow kicking into gear because soil moisture levels were low.  Dairy herds are being dried off and cull cows are off to the works. 

Pukekohe vegetable growers have been motivated by last season's higher prices and good weather. They've planted extensive areas of brassicas, lettuce and other green crops and now there's oversupply. Prices to growers have been very low on the whole.

In Waikato the warm wet April has pushed grass growth along nicely. Re-grassed paddocks are growing really well. 

Bay of Plenty dairy farmers have nothing to complain about, with cows in good condition, grass coming along well and the OK payout. Eighty percent of the gold kiwifruit harvest is now in, and it will be completed in the next two weeks. Most of the green kiwifruit's yet to be picked but there are plenty of workers around for picking and packing. "It's all tickity boo", our contact said.

Thursday was a cracker of a day in King Country, after temperatures plunged last week. Lambs are off to the works. Normally they're sold as store lambs to be fattened up elsewhere, but with such low prices farmers have been trying to do that themselves. There's plenty of grass around. The ram's nearly done his job and is starting to hang out by the gate. Ewes were in good nick for mating.

Most of Taranaki's had a good autumn but the southern coastal area has been very dry and drought was declared.  It looks green, but there's been no rain and dairy herds have been dried off.  Milk production figures for all parts of Taranaki are a few percent down on last year, but last year was a cracker.

Pumpkin ready for harvest

Photo: Judy Mellsop

Around Ruapehu and Turangi a warm, wet summer means there's lot of grass. But half way down the Parapara Road towards Whanganui and further south it's very dry.  Rain's only arrived in the past month. Paddocks have greened up, but there's no growth. Farmers are struggling to finish lambs and even weaner calves are 20 to 25 percent lighter than last year.  Banks are generally working hard to support cash-strapped sheep and beef farmers. The word is they'll help them for the next year, but after that something needs to have changed. Some farmers who were thinking of planting trees this winter are holding off, waiting to see what direction the government takes with the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Also in Manawatū it's a green drought. In fact, Tararua farmers were celebrating on Wednesday night because they had had 15 millimetres of rain. They'd normally not even notice that amount.  Lots of dairy herds have gone onto once a day milking.  The dry is good for pasture utilisation, however, and crops are still firing.

In Gisborne the current soil moisture deficit has slowed growth, but there were good covers earlier on. After a long summer where farmers struggled to control parasites in sheep, the dry is relieving that problem. A sniff of better lamb returns in spring is giving farmers a tiny ray of hope. The citrus harvest is humming along in the fine weather. Feijoas and kiwifriut are all coming off with few interruptions too.

No caption

Photo: Susan Murray/RNZ

Hawkes Bay received half its normal rainfall last month. Growth was down about a third of normal levels for April and it was similar in March. Finishing farmers aren't buying in stock yet because they don't have enough feed. There is still time for growth before winter, but it's tight. There are some ordinary looking lambs around but luckily breeding stock look OK.

The farmer we spoke to in Wairarapa says the situation is desperate and he's fed up with hearing about all the redundancies in Wellington, given the pain in rural areas. He says there are three F's in farming at present ... Feed and Finance are two of them.  He pointed to the terrible balance sheet of one young farmer he helps out. One hundred and twenty thousand dollars of fertiliser isn't going on his farm, which limits future growth, and means there isn't the work around for fertiliser, fencing and spraying contractors. They're all losing income.

A fixed-wing aircraft is used to drop fertiliser on a field.

Farmers are cutting back on fertiliser to try and balance budgets Photo: New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association

Horowhenua which was declared a drought is also now green, but that's it. There's been no growth so farmers hope it stays warm for a while longer. The over supply of maize grain has been a blessing because it's being cut for silage. It gives dairy farmers a cheaper feed and it at least gives the maize growers a market.

Ki Te Waipounamu - across Cook Strait - and the tail end of the late apple varieties like Pink Lady and Envy are coming in in the Tasman region. Feijoas are being picked.  All the gold kiwifriut packing will be done by the end of next week and the green kiwifruit harvest is snapping along too. There's only been one weather event all season to stop any horticulture harvesting, so people are happy, our contact says.

Marlborough is looking better than a month ago. One hundred and twenty millimetres of rain fell on our contact's farm three weeks ago and there've been nice top-ups of four to 12 millimetres since. Soil moisture's still very low but grass has turned green and there have been some frosts. Suprisingly stock are doing well. Ewes went to the ram in good condition and there've been good pregnancy scanning results in cows. Our contact said generally farmers heeded earlier warnings and weren't carrying too much stock over summer. Pruning is underway on grape vines. 

All the heavy rain a few weeks ago on the West Coast didn't cause too many problems.  Dairy cows are still milking fine and will be dried off soon. Things have just slowed down a little more quickly than last year.

Recent rain has brought relief to some parts of Canterbury but, on the whole, it is too late. The north, in particular, remains very dry. The last of the prime lambs are leaving farms and many are wondering about the future of the sheep industry given the extremely poor prices this year. Coupled with the dry conditions, it's safe to say many are not very upbeat.  

Central Otago winter hay stored

Photo: Michael Godfrey

After a tough summer season, Otago farmers are hoping for grass growth this month. Seventy millimetres of rain in April turned things around. But again farmers have no money. Budgets are the worst in decades, according to our contact. A cattle sale in South Otago on Wednesday was a buyer's market. No one has money to buy stock.

Southland received the rain that no one else got. Autumn's been very wet. It held up the harvesting of wheat, barley, oats, peas and beans so it was a real community effort to finally get it all done last week. Cows are still being milked and lambs are heading to the works. The ram's about to go out or is among the ewes already. 

Sheep muster St Bathans

Photo: Catherine McLean