22 Sep 2018

The rural wrap from around New Zealand

5:30 pm on 22 September 2018

The weekly rural wrap from around the country from RNZ's Country Life.

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Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Northland's kumara growers are finishing off bedding out to produce the plants that will go into the ground at the end of October. Kumara are fetching good prices - between $6 and $11 a kilo depending where you shop. Farms are still quite moist underfoot. However, showers this week will have served to freshen up the grass. Growers and farmers would like 15 millimetres of rain a week - and for the sun to come out.

Vegetable growers around Pukekohe had been contemplating turning on their irrigation systems but they've been able to postpone flicking the switch because of rain mid-week. The big event on the calendar has been the gala dinner celebrating the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association's 100 years. On Friday night, about 600 guests paid to attend.

In Waikato, grass is really starting to move on most farms. Temperatures hit 22 degrees. The down side to the warmer than usual weather is lice - farmers are having to drench sheep earlier than usual. Usually a cold winter knocks lice on the head. Old season lambs are fetching an impressive $8.60 per kilogram and beef prices are trucking along, too. New season lambs won't be sent to the works until November.

Bay of Plenty had 15-25mm of rain and, after ten days of fine weather, it was an ideal amount. Most farms have finished lambing and docking is underway in warm conditions. Bird scarers are going off in gold kiwifruit blocks - the vines are budding and apparently birds pick away at the buds. A lot of land is being taken out of pasture and is being put into kiwifruit. The neighbour of the farmer we speak to has taken 50 hectares out of cows. Whole farms are being bought by developers and that has seen land prices lift. It is very tempting for farmers thinking about retirement.

A fine warm week in King Country saw thousands of lambs docked. Lamb survival has been variable following the wet August. Pasture growth is excellent but stock are all in hungry production mode and feed covers are slow to lift. Lawn mowers are in weekly use and log fires have gone out with wood sheds still half full.

Taranaki farmers don't usually welcome rain in September but they did this week. There have also been some lovely sunny days and good clover growth and, because of it, there has a bit of bloat around. Cows are milking well and the very early herds will be into mating.

Gisborne had a cold, wet snap on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was brief so there shouldn't be too many lamb losses. Farms near to the coast are due to start docking. Inland, lambing is about half way through. Grass growth is ok but has room to improve. Calving is also midway through on beef properties.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Hawke's Bay has been mostly fine with a bit of rain, typical spring conditions. Farmers have been counting their losses following the storm two weeks ago. Days and days of driving rain and cold weather saw big losses on some farms and not so bad on neighbouring farms. Ag consultant Phil Tither says that is because lambing is so condensed. You can have half your flock give birth in a ten day period and if five of those are in shocking weather, losses will be high. A neighbour who lambs a few days earlier or later won't suffer as badly. We heard of one farm that lost 20 percent of its lambs born in the storm.

Horowhenua has had a glorious week with fabulously warm temperatures. If anything, dairy farms would like a little moisture. There are reports that farmers in southern Manawatu have turned on their irrigators, a huge contrast to this time last year when the area was under water. Cows are milking very well, better than they have for a number of years. Farmers have been warned they might be in for a dry summer so they are wanting to make the most of the spring.

Asparagus spears are popping up nicely - and are being freighted around the country.

South Island

A Tapawera hop grower in the Nelson/Motueka region is in the middle of planting around 42,000 vines in a new garden. It is done by hand and is the last large-scale job for the year. This will add an extra 14 hectares to the growing operation. First-year hops spend most of their energy getting their roots established so, while there will be an average amount of seed cones or flowers, production really kicks in by the second year and beyond.

Tailing is about to start on early lamb mobs on hill farms in Marlborough, while, on high country properties they are a few weeks behind that and pre-lamb shearing is in full swing. Lots of calves are on the ground around Havelock. There was rain here earlier in the week, but then it was sunny and temperatures topped 20 degrees.

Our contact in Hokitika on the West Coast says calving is going smoothly. He has 70 cows to go out of a herd of 500. The sun has been out and after 25mm of rain this week there is plenty of tucker around. Farmers are getting crop paddocks back into grass and oats, and the mowers are coming out of hibernation ready for topping.

It's been another stunning week in Canterbury, with temperatures in low 20s. As a result, irrigation has started this week on lighter soils. Farmers who have been tailing are reporting high percentages. A true tailing percentage is the number of lambs born per 100 ewes mated, which survive through to tailing. The average tailing percentage for New Zealand ewes is 120-125 percent, but this ranges from just under 100 in hard hill country merino flocks to over 170 percent in high producing flat land areas. It is well over 200 percent where farmers specifically go for triplets.

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Photo: Supplied

Like elsewhere, calving is on the home straight in South Otago but a cold snap next week, with snow predicted down to 200 metres, is keeping farmers on their toes. Our contact in the Taieri Plain has only nine cows left to calf and he's hoping they be done by then. It's still too wet to do tractor work after another 20-30mm of rain this week.

Western Southland has been windy. A bit of moisture fell over the Blackmount Valley on Wednesday but it evaporated quickly. Lambing is in full swing and most hogget shearing is done. Beef stock that were on crops are moving onto grass. Wintering paddocks are being worked over and aerated in preparation for planting. On dairy farms, milk flows are moving up nicely. Farmers are now looking towards mating.