8 May 2020

Hawke's Bay farmers: 'Help us feed our livestock'

4:54 pm on 8 May 2020

By Suz Bremner and Mel Croad

Opinion - In some situations actions speak louder than words, and for Hawke's Bay farmers who have been hit hard this year we have a simple message that we want heard - help us physically feed our livestock and if that can't be done, allow us our channels to sell them.

A parched paddock in southern Hawkes Bay

Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

We as farmers prepare for drought - we must, otherwise we will simply make life harder for ourselves.

There are enough farmers in Hawke's Bay who farmed through the 1982-83 drought and learned from that, and the same will be said for this one.

But what could not be prepared for this year was the combination of drought and a pandemic, which has caused chaos for the wider industry and created issues such as reduced processing capacity and a sudden decline in demand from our international markets that we rely heavily on.

On top of that, Mycoplasma bovis continues to have a significant impact both within Hawke's Bay and other regions, and positive TB results have also been a devastating blow for some farmers.

Suz Bremner's farm west of Hastings still has some green paddocks, but the dams are empty as there's been just 138mm of rain so far this year. Average rainfall would usually be around 550mm to date. They typically have a long winter and so like many others Suz fears what the next few months will bring.

Further south, Mel Croad's farm in Central Hawkes Bay has had just 80mm so far this year. Many Hawke's Bay farmers started eating into their winter supplementary feed in early February and would never have thought that 100 days later they would still be feeding out. The reality is that Hawke's Bay farmers are putting on their boots to be met at the first gate by no grass growth, hungry stock and limited supplementary feed, every day.

Farmers are grateful for any government funding or support offered but they are practical people and are asking for practical solutions to a problem that is currently beyond their control.

A cap on prices of supplementary feed could mean that more feed could be purchased, or farmers will not push themselves further into debt.

Wrapped baleage prices have soared to $150-$200 per bale, when in a typical year $80-$90 is common. A bale of round hay would usually set farmers back $50-$65, but currently $115 plus is not uncommon.

Conventional hay (small square bales) has doubled in price from $7 per bale to $14-$16. Support to cover transportation costs would also be beneficial for the same reason.

One silver lining is that sale yards are set to reopen under alert level 2 , providing an outlet that has been missing at a time when it was needed the most.

Stock agents have worked tirelessly for their clients through lockdown and at alert level 3 stages to try and offload stock, and a number of companies introduced online trading platforms as well, but the certainty of when stock can leave the farm to go to the sale yards is one pivotal element that farmers need back.

* Suz Bremner farms west of Hastings and Mel Croad in Central Hawkes Bay. Both are AgriHQ analysts specialising in the sheep and beef farming sector.

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