10 Apr 2020

Regional Wrap

From On the Farm, 9:07 pm on 10 April 2020
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Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

While the prolonged drought in Northland has been hard yakker for cattle and sheep farmers, it's been a bonus for kumara growers. A grower told us he's about 70 percent through harvest and the dry means thirty to forty percent fewer workers needed this year. In the wet, there's a lot more sorting to do. While the overall yield is down, the quality is great. A stock agent in Kaipara was looking out at a tinge of green when we rang. There had been some rain the last couple of nights. While he's sorry he can't go fishing this weekend because of the lockdown, the slight damp has more than made up for that. He's not seen a longer drought in 40 some years on the job.

Around Pukekohe showers have not been nearly enough to top up dry soils this week. Green leaf or salad crops are still reliant on irrigation. It has been a long summer. Some truck drivers can be seen driving solo wearing their face masks.

A farmer and stock agent near Taumaranui says six millimetres of rain received midweek was not a lot but it was significant because seeds are just starting to germinate on bare patches of land. In the central North Island winter is approaching very quickly and time is running out to build up critical feed stocks for next year's production. Covid-19 related issues with moving stock on top of the drought have compounded the mental stress on farmers. Our contact says many are in severe mental strife and the farm environment, though beautiful, can be a lonely place. But he says farmers really appreciate the acknowledgement they're getting at the moment.

A South Wairarapa farmer's contribution to  the teddy bear hunt during the Covid-19 lockdown

A South Wairarapa farmer's contribution to the teddy bear hunt during the Covid-19 lockdown Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Waikato had a good pour of rain midweek. Forty millimetres in some areas after sunny warm days. Forecast rain for the weekend is welcome. Pasture growth had declined in last few days.

A consultant in Bay of Plenty says the kiwifruit pack is going really well in the good weather despite the restrictions of covid-19. Some packhouses are still short of workers but they're ensuring rules are adhered to. She says the industry is conscious of its responsibility to garner export returns for the country with tourism shut down. Thirty two percent of the gold has been packed and 13 percent of the Hayward variety.

In Taranaki central and northern areas have had reasonable rain and grass is growing well but southern coastal areas are still pretty dry. Forecasts have said good rain's on its way but barely any has arrived.  In the driest areas many herds will be calling it quits for the season.   

A Gisborne rural real estate agent says a few farms were listed just before lockdown and people have been busy sitting at home browsing on line - so lots of enquiries are coming through. One farm is 2700 hectares and carries 22 thousand stock units - it should sell for more than $20 million so there's a lot of due diligence to be done by prospective buyers and homework for accountants, bankers and valuers. He says he didn't realise how many tomatoes were grown up his valley - and has been watching trucks filled with them rumble past.  Farmers in this region are nutting out how to feed stock too - even people with grass don't have plenty.

A Hawkes Bay ag consultant is busy helping people work out how best to feed all the mouths still on their farms. It's very dry, feed's short and he says often the most cost effective way is to apply nitrogen. Some of his clients usually put it on just parts of their farms but he's recommending a more widespread application - he says getting the timing right is important - not too soon after rain.  Buying in supplementary feed is also an option but with most of the North Island short of feed - it's expensive.

The apple harvest is continuing flat out and orchardists are focusing on the blocks that give them better returns - the fruit that's being bypassed is often the third pick - so is a bit mature and we're told not a great loss.  There's a big crop this year and some concern about whether exporters can get it shipped and sold at good prices.. Easter often poses a problem for orchardists. They have fruit to get off but have to pay pickers double time. We've heard of one large grower who forged ahead last year - and said in the scheme of things it didn't add too much to his harvest bill and he ended up with some very happy workers.

In Wairarapa, a farmer says recovery is on its way but they still need another wet up. One plus from the dry is not having too much rank grass to clear. He says the rams have just gone out and a mountain of supplementary feed - mainly barley - is being fed out. It would be nice to get the odd dry cow to the works and some of his lambs are having to wait with sheep meat plants only working at half capacity. Farmers are being very safety conscious so as not to prompt unnecessary callouts.

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Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Across the Cook Strait, in Nelson there has been no significant rainfall in the last week. Things are still looking a bit dry with water restrictions still in place across the region. The orchardist we spoke to is starting to pick feijoas and red Braeburn apples, but the problem will be getting them into the market because his roadside shop and the retailers he supplies are classed as non-essential business. He says the four people who work on his orchard are all in one bubble but are having to adjust to a new normal like no Friday night drinks with the neighbours.

In Marlborough, things are dry and hot. There has been no significant rain in the region since well before Christmas, but the forecast is for a good dollop on Saturday. One farmer says there's still a bit of feed left over from a reasonable spring. He says that being in isolation is pretty good, to be fair, because his wife doesn't make him go to town at the weekend and that doesn't worry him at all!

Over on the West Coast, our contact says the weather's been 'bloody great'. Feed levels are good, but he can't get stock to the works, so he is having to look at winter feed budgets pretty carefully. Other than that, his isolation is going well. He said the best part is the tractor salesmen have stopped coming but he does miss takeaways. The kids are back from school, so he has more staff on hand and says he's 'never turned over so much work before!"

In the Mackenzie Basin, signs of winter are starting to show. Daytime temperatures have been sitting in the mid teens and frosts are starting to bite. The farmer we rang says a southerly came through overnight on Wednesday bringing a good dusting of snow across the tops of the farm which is about 500m above sea. Trying to get space at the works for lambs is becoming a real challenge and, with already low feed levels, he wants to get them away before he has to start tucking in to the crops put away for winter.

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Photo: 123rf

In Otago, the weather this week has been fine, but the seasons are starting to turn and welcome rain is due this weekend. March was a good growing month with decent rain and sunshine. On our contact's farm, cows are finishing up on the summer crop paddocks and will go back onto grass for the spring. He says they're also struggling to get cows to the works. He needs to get rid of at least 230 in the next month but only 13 have gone so far and if he can't get them away, he'll have to re-assess how he'll manage feed for winter.  

In Southland, farmers are busy in their bubbles. The weather this week has been an improvement on previous weeks. The region is also feeling the effects of not being able to get stock off to the works.  The sheep and arable farmer we spoke to says he has one late paddock of grain to come off and is currently drying what is in the silo from the recent harvest. He's also just taught his wife to drive the tractor and he's rapt! Normally she'd be teaching at the local school.