31 May 2024

On the Farm - a wrap of conditions around the country

From Country Life, 7:12 pm on 31 May 2024
This year's apple harvest in Hawke's Bay has produced good quality fruit, though of a smaller size and volume.

This year's apple harvest in Hawke's Bay has produced good quality fruit, though of a smaller size and volume. Photo: Supplied

Northland - Te Tai Tokerau took a bit of a battering in recent storms though there was no significant damage. Our farmer contact said the region could do with some more rain, having only recorded about 15 millimetres of rain this week. He expected grass growth to be slow and feed to be "tight" this winter.

Around Pukekohe, weather and growing conditions were good until the last week in May when squally thunderstorms swept over the district. Some crops were damaged with forceful wind and pea sized hail. However, due to the heavy supply of fresh vegetables in the domestic market place, losses are unlikely to be significant except for the grower.

The dairy season is coming to an end in Waikato. It's been a terrific autumn, "one of the best for a long time" says a local rep. The mood is pretty happy, following a "reasonable" payout and good winter cover. There have been reports of some slug damage, leading to re-grassing. Sheep and beef farmers are hurting though. Feed conditions are good in Waikato but prices are poor.

Grass-growth has been good in King Country, though it's been "knocked back" by recent frosts and rain. Some were still milking but starting to dry off. Most dairy farmers were taking a break and thinking about next steps, ahead of calving in August and a return to milking in September. Balancing the books has become harder, with rates increase proposals, high interest rates and rising costs. 

Some of Fernhill's diary cows during feeding time.

Dairy farmers have started feeding out supplementary supplies. Photo: Gianina Schwanecke / Country Life

Taranaki also had a good dowsing of rain this past week, but for farmers in the south it had come "too late" for this season. Most dairy farmers had stopped milking and dried off their cows by the start of May to help build pasture growth coming into winter. Many had already started eating into supplementary feed supplies. Milk production to the end of April was down about 4% compared to a very good season last year. 

It's been a "dream run" for kiwifruit growers in Bay of Plenty, and a season "to remember". Harvest wraps up for most this week, with some gold growers already into their pruning. The kiwifruit has been good quality and there's been plenty of it. Growers are also celebrating after authorities said they can keep using hydrogren cynamide, an agri-chemical used to help buds form. Read more about that here.

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Shedding sheep breeds like Wiltshires are becoming more popular. Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

On the East Coast-Te Tai Rāwhiti, sheep farmers have started pregnancy scanning. It was a good summer and sheep are still in good condition, so good results are expected. There's been increased interest in sheep shedding breeds like Wiltshires to beat the costs of shearing and fly strike. Cattle prices aren't bad and the region isn't too dry. Horticulturalists say it's been one of their best autumns. Current crops of broccoli, lettuce and salads are looking good and the maize is mostly in.

A drop in temperature has seen fruit trees across Hawke's Bay lose their leaves earlier than usual. This has allowed growers to get in and do some early pruning. Most apples have been packed and shipped off for export. Good quality fruit should make for a good eating experience, though the smaller fruit sizes have led to lesser volumes. The dry autumn is creating challenges for the region's pastoral farmers.

Sheep at Puketiti Station bask on a rare sunny day.

Good summer and sheep conditions should make for good pregnancy scanning results on the East Coast. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Dry conditions across Manawatū-Rangitikei are considered "unprecedented for May". Our farm consultant says the much-needed autumn boost never came. A lack of rainfall has held back pasture growth, and despite a bit of rain this week, winter cover isn't growing due to the cold setting in. Many of the region's farmers are looking to destock.

The dry is even more "extreme" in parts of Wairarapa, where our contact estimates farms are down about 20% on capital stock. Most stock are going to the works for processing, though there has been some interest from buyers in parts of King Country and Hawke's Bay. The big concern is the mood among farmers who are doing it "really, really tough".

Across Cook Strait to the Whakatū-Tasman region, apple packing's done and dusted for a grower we spoke to in Motueka. Quantity and fruit size is down due to the dry summer, but the fruit quality and sugar levels are exceptional. He says 70% of the apples are going to Asia, with the Royal Gala's have already gone, the rest will be going to Europe. Orchard pruning's underway and there are no staffing issues.

Grass has stopped growing on the Moore's farm in Upper Moutere.

Conditions are dry in the top of the South Island. Photo: Samantha Gee

The dry conditions in Marlborough are great for grape pruning - that's kicked off in vineyards - but it's been making life difficult for farmers. Our contact in Linkwater had to dry off her cows three weeks early due to the lack of moisture and the production levels are down for the season. She's wintering her cows on farm and fortunately, she's got good winter receives of hay and a big pile of maize silage in the pit. 

Our contact at Barrytown on the West Coast reckons he's the only farmer who hasn't dried off his herd. That's happening this weekend. He says milk production was up on last year and generally, it's been an outstanding season, with rain and sun coming at the right times. Cows are on grass for the winter break and getting a top up of silage and baleage. 

May has been cold in Canterbury with frosts the norm and on the whole it remains dry. Those two together don't bode well for pasture growth. Dairy farmers are drying off and animals are moving to grazing blocks and over all, milk production's been good this year. Arable farmers are planting the last of the autumn sown cereals and most farms are loaded up with store lambs for the winter. 


Mobile crutching trailers are becoming more popular. Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Central Otago sheep farmers are busy crutching ewes. A farmer at Oturehua told us more people are using mobile crutching trailers now, instead of shearing sheds, as it's more cost effective. The trimmed wool is dumped as it costs to get it processed. He says it's a shame as the wool's great for insulation products. There's a bit of colour on the hills now, but water levels in creeks and dams are still low. Winter feed crops are struggling due to the dry autumn, but crops under irrigation are okay. The final Brass Monkey motorcycle Rally was held in Oturehua in 2021. It was always held on the Queens birthday weekend. The farmer says some bikers will still turn up though, so he'll open up a paddock for them.

And finally... Southland's been unseasonable wet and cold, so most dairy farmers have dried off earlier than usual. Tractor work's ground to a halt after 50 millimetre of rain this week. Cows are behind wire on winter crops and it's muddy under hoof. Ditto for sheep, who are making a mess on Kale, swedes and fodder beet. People thinking about year-end results and next year's cash-flow, so lots there's of head scratching going on, says a farmer near Gore. 

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