22 Feb 2019

On the farm: Our guide to what's happening this week around rural NZ

From On the Farm, 9:10 pm on 22 February 2019

Our guide to what's happening on the farms and orchards around New Zealand.

Northland has been enjoying some lovely drizzle - three days of rain and we're told the region will turn around after its dry weather.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

South Auckland vegetable growers are really hoping the hot dry weather pattern of the past four and a half weeks will be changing this weekend but it's hard to say if it will. Now onion and potato crops are off the fields, heavy machinery with subsoilers or rippers are in breaking up compacted soil. Rain is needed to soften the large lumps so seedbeds can be made for planting autumn and winter greens.

Feed is continuing to disappear quickly around Waikato. Everyone is hanging out for rain. Apple orchardists can see trees starting to look stressed; later varieties still have another month or more of growing to do. Sheep and Beef farmers are offloading sheep and cattle as fast as they can and apparently it is getting difficult to find space at the works. 

King Country is not looking good any longer either. Clover is getting burnt off. Farmers are starting to  protect sheep and cattle against Facial eczema because spore counts are going up. 

Getting wet

Parts of Bay of Plenty were starting to get wet on Thursday night. One farmer we spoke to collected 27 millimetres in the gauge that night, which is useful, but more follow up rain is needed for it to be really useful. As in Waikato, farmers are offloading stock quickly. Those with a lot of dry standing grass will struggle to feed animals for the next few weeks until fresh growth appears.
Taranaki was happily getting wet on Friday. Stratford had received 10 millimetres by the morning. That normally wouldn't be considered rain but it's the most moisture since January so is great but more is needed. North Taranaki is very brown and it will take longer to recover. Farmers are doing standard drought - or certainly dry weather - management things like culling cows that aren't in calf, milking once a day or every 16 hours, and feeding supplements. Milk production, which had been holding well, has been dropping in the past week, and will probably keep going down even though it's rained, because cows don't like the wet.

Across the island and Gisborne all but missed out on the rain Hicks Bay enjoyed mid-week. However Gisborne is still green-ish and there's plenty of feed on farms. Cropping guys are flat out harvesting; two squash boats have been in port at the same time being loaded up with produce. The region's weaner fairs are a month away and cows and their calves are in really good nick.

Hawke's Bay has had a dry hot week with temperatures in the low 30s. If rain does arrive this weekend it'll freshen things up nicely. Feed supplies had been very good up until a couple of weeks ago. Store lamb prices have dropped by about $12 to $15 a head because the feed hasn't been there for them - buyers are pleased. On orchards, Royal gala apples are coming off thick and fast. There are still a few plums to be picked. A long-time horticulture consultant says every year there's a 'golden queen rain'. It comes just before the peaches are ready and gives growers a real headache. He thinks it may be in store for this weekend.

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Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Wairarapa is pretty dry. One farmer says she hasn't seen rain since New Year, however that's not unusual for the region. Irrigation restrictions have been in place for a couple of weeks now and everything that doesn't have water is completely brown. Some crops didn't strike because they were awash before Christmas but there still is feed about. Some dairy farmers are moving to once-a-day milking. 

Needing rain

The Manawatu-based agriculture consultant we speak to says when he was driving back from Taihape on Thursday he had to slow down to 60 kilometres an hour because it was raining so hard but, when he got to Mangaweka, it was as dry as a chip. The rain didn't reach Erewhon Station on the Taihape - Napier road either. He says lower Manawatu needs rain the most. Lambs had been growing well but the feed they like has disappeared so their growth rates have dropped. There is plenty of feed for cattle and sheep. Farmers are holding on to them so there's space at the works. We're told right now - the power is behind the fence. 

When we rang Horowhenua on Friday our contact was over the moon - it was raining. Some 25 millimetres had arrived by 11am.

South Island

Workers are still busy harvesting Royal Gala apples in the Nelson/Motueka region. RSE workers are doing the bulk of the work and we're told, as usual, it's hard to find enough, reliable seasonal workers. Fruit quality is outstanding but size is back a bit due to the extremely dry conditions. One grower with 60 hectares of apples near Motueka says the dam that provides water for irrigation is nearly dry so he's worried about the later variety apples.

Marlborough is expecting a good dose of rain from the north-west this weekend. Farmers certainly need it to kick start pasture growth. This will help ewes to put condition back on in preparation for the Ram. Grape growers are not so keen on rain though as harvesting is underway with the lower sugar grape varieties that produce sparkling wines. The rain will also increase the risk of powdery mildew and botrytis in vineyards.  

It's still dry up the Grey Valley on the West Coast but further south around Hokitika there's been a few decent showers this week. Dairy farmers are pregnancy testing, getting culls away and doing feed budgeting for winter. One farmer says he is a bit disappointed at the overall empty rate for his herd. It's sitting at 13 percent. Normally it's under the 12 percent mark. He's also surprised at how milk production lifted after going from twice to once a day milking after Christmas.

Hot and dry in Canterbury

It's been yet another hot dry week in Canterbury. Dryland areas are completely brown now and many winter feed crops are struggling. Everyone is looking forward to forecast rain this weekend!

Like elsewhere, farmers in Otago's Taieri region could do with some rain. Cows are being supplementary fed bailage due to a lack of quality pasture. Our contact says pregnancy testing is done and dusted and results are better than last year. Milk production is up 25 percent too. Because of flooding last year, production had dropped by quite a bit so this season is evening things out.

Over the past couple of weeks Coastal Southland has had hot days, cooler days and just enough rain to keep pastures and winter crops growing. Dairy cows are settled and milk flows are holding. On sheep farms, hoggets are being shorn and because of the low price of strong wool, some farmers are holding onto the bales until prices rise.


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