5 Apr 2019

On the farm: What's happening on farms and orchards around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:07 pm on 5 April 2019
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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

North Island grape growers have had ideal weather for their harvest so far and, in the South Island, Canterbury has had its first frost of the season.

In the past week Northland has had a good dollop of rain - between 60 and 80 millimetres in the east and less in the west. There is no length to the pasture but it is green. The kill schedule for prime beef has taken a sharp turn up-wards.

Around Pukekohe the heaviest rainfall for many weeks fell on Monday when 30 to 40 mm was recorded. The rain has given a significant boost to needy crops and the conversion of brown grass paddocks to green has been rapid. Our grower contact says the increase in the minimum wage rate will have a big effect on growers' costs that will be difficult to recover in the market place and he believes it could be the tipping point for some producers to exit the industry.

Waikato also had some useful rain - but it may have come too late to set things right for winter. Spore counts for facial eczema are pretty high after the rain - the spores thrive in the rotting dead matter and when the grass is short cows chew pretty low and ingest them. Farmers have seen some clinical cases.

There has been a splash of rain too in Bay of Plenty and mild daytime temperatures. There's a bit of a lull in the kiwifruit harvest - there's always a flurry of activity to get Early Start gold fruit off.  It gets a premium, but now there's a wait for the main crop harvest.  The farmer we speak to says milk production will be down for the season by a fair margin on his farm.  

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

In the Ruapehu district we're told they're having an awesome autumn - it's green and there's now plenty of water in dams for stock. Cooler overnight weather is killing the bugs, cattle are being weaned and pregnancy tested, and lambs heading to the works are fetching god prices.

Inland Taranaki, which had rain a couple of weeks ago and now has had more, is seeing some great April grass growth. Now that it's rained across the province, farmers are hoping to milk on to the end of the month. Facial eczema spore counts have jumped here too.

In Gisborne the grape harvest has finished on some vineyards but the vineyard we rang hand picks so they're about half way thorough.  Summer was a fantastic growing season - the berries are beautiful and plump and bunch size and ripening has been outstanding. Rain though is predicted for the weekend.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Hawkes Bay has been blessed with ideal weather for the maize, apple and grape harvests - there has been rain but it's been at night so workers have been able to crack on in fine weather.  Envy, NZ Queen and Pacific Queen are coming off apple trees. Braeburns are ready too but they don't  pay as much so have to take a back seat. Granny Smiths are also being harvested - there's been a lift in demand for them.  People who sell apples like to have a green apple on shelves to contrast with mainly red apples. South Africa used to grow a lot of Granny Smith but production there has slumped. The hort consultant we speak to went out to watch apples being harvested by machines this week - he says RSE workers needn't worry - they wont be losing their jobs any time soon.  On farms, it's still a bit dry and it'd be nice to have rain to freshen things up.

To Manawatu and Palmerston North has had about 13 mm of rain this week and other parts of the district a bit more or a bit less.  Farmers have been reaching for their jerseys and long pants - temperatures have dropped to  five degrees in the mornings!

Wairarapa has had fiddly bits of rain - some places 60 mm and others four or eight. The region needs one good wet up. Cool night temperatures of about five or six degrees should kick facial eczema into touch. We're told farming's like a three legged stool - and for things to be going well all three need to be stable...prices, animal health and feed. Well at the moment it's a two-legged stool - the lack of good quality feed is making things a bit wobbly.

South Island

Across Cook Strait apple harvesting is at the half way point and luckily picking wasn't affected by rain showers at the start of the week. The Envy and Jazz varieties have been coming off at our contacts orchard near Motueka. He says fruit quality so far has been outstanding. Seasonal staffing's still an issue for some orchards that don't rely on RSE workers.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

A grape grower in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough says he finished harvesting on Monday and the yield is slightly up on last year. Brix or sugar levels are looking good too. Across the province, grape harvesting's about 70 percent complete. As soon as the grapes are off lambs flood into vineyards to clean up as there's a lot of tasty tucker under the vines.  

Farmers are in clean up mode after last week's torrential rain in South Westland. Further north up the Grey Valley a farmer at Atarau says he had 130 mm in gauge from the tail end of rain event. Cows are still back on production because of the dry summer and a lack of quality feed, and those with signs of facial eczema are being dried off early. The last of the new grass is being sown and winter crops like swedes are getting a boost of diammonium phosphate, otherwise known as 'DAP', a widely used phosphorus fertiliser.

Canterbury had its  first frost for the season on Thursday and on Friday it was raining and cold. Farmers welcomed the rain as many parts of Canterbury remain dry. Growth over the last month on irrigated land has been fantastic, however it's expected things will slow up with the cooler temperatures and likelihood of more frosts. Calf sales have begun and so far prices seem to be back approx. $150 a head on last year.

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Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Calf sales in Central Otago this week have been pretty good but prices are down on last year by about $100; last year's sales were exceptional though. At Omakau the highest bid was $1030 for an angus-cross steer,  with an average of 850 and, for 8-month-old heifers, the average price was $600. Merino sheep farmers are in crutching ewes in preparation for the ram. Pasture levels are good and there's colossal amounts of baleage in store for winter.

There's been significant grass growth lately in Western Southland and baleage is still being made.  It's been quite warm with the odd shower this week. Milking's ticking along okay on dairy farms. On lower sheep farms rams are already out on some properties. Our contact at Blackmount has just sent the first lot of his 16-month old bulls away to the works. Weight-wise they are slightly up on last year.  Young bull calves, that will go to the works next year, are going onto crops where they'll park up until spring.