22 May 2020

On the farm: What's happening in rural New Zealand this week

From On the Farm, 9:15 pm on 22 May 2020
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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Frosts tickled much of the North Island this week. Now saleyards have opened, the demand for store stock has improved.

We're told Northland's been cold - just 10 to 12 degrees in the mornings - which will sound positively balmy to many of us. There have been brilliant sunny days - the upside is farmers have been able to crack on with maintenance - the downside is some farms are still gripped by drought. On some properties pasture cover is 200 kilograms of dry matter per hectare lower than it should be.  Reasonable rain is forecast for Monday and Tuesday. It's needed not only to improve pasture growth but for water supplies for next summer. The key message to farmers is to get nitrogen on before the rain comes.  

Pukekohe has had two weeks of outstanding fine weather with high levels of sunlight and cool morning temperatures.  Conditions have been perfect for preparing for the planting or sowing of all crops but those more dependent on moisture have needed irrigation. At some stage the beautiful weather will disappear. What a shock that will be.
South Waikato has had a couple of ripper frosts and some low fog. A farmer we speak is still milking  750 out of 950 cows. They're being fed about 13 kilograms of supplementary feed each a day to keep them going. Milk production will be up seven to eight percent on that farm for the season.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Taranaki has also been sunny and cold in the mornings. The province still needs every drop of rain it can get.  One South Taranaki farmer has been keeping rainfall figures for 55 years and says unless there's significant rain in the next week January to May will be the driest  five month period he's recorded in all that time.

On the East Coast near Gisborne, rain this week has been a blessing for dry areas. The region is still short on feed and Ag consultants are busy helping farmers with feed plans. Gisborne had it's first sheep sale last Friday and the prices were strong. All eyes are on the first cattle sale this coming Tuesday. The logging industry, which was one of the first to stop because of the covid-19 outbreak, is getting back into the swing of things, a couple of boats have left the harbour full of logs this week.

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Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Down the road in Central Hawkes Bay, the situation is still dire. The farmer we spoke to says his total rainfall for May is about 30mm, which brings the total to just a bit over 100mm for the year. Tupping is done and first of the early ewes are starting to be scanned, predictions are scanning results will be poor.

Grass growth

In Wairarapa, drizzle then sunny days have kept pasture growth ticking along. There've also been a couple of frosts.  People are finally starting to buy store lambs; arable farmers report growth is slow because it's been dry and there's pressure from slugs and dairy farmers and battling to build up feed before winter hits.

Manawatu Rangitikei and Tararau had their first really hard  frost on Thursday morning.  Rain's been very patchy across the region this autumn so some farms are just comfortable for feed and on others it's a real concern, given it is so late in the season.  Our contact says for a region that's had its own feed worries it's amazing how much has come out of the woodwork to be sent up to Hawkes Bay. Farmers are thrilled to be able to help out.

Horowhenua has also woken to a couple of hard frosts this week. Some farmers have had to start  irrigators back up which is most unusual for this time of the year. Vegetable production is strong so lots of  greens are heading to supermarkets.

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Photo: Pixabay

South Island

The Nelson/Motueka region's had wonderful weather - but not if you're waiting for rain.  It's still dry and heavier and heavier frosts are not helping grass growth.  Most sheep and beef farmers are still trying to get rid of stock and with the saleyards now open, they're finally moving.  Dairy farmers are stuck for winter grazing - it's not available because there's just no feed.  

In Marlborough vineyards pruning is underway in t-shirt weather. On one organic property, cover crops - cereals and legumes - are being sown in every second row and cows are being allowed into the other rows.  An electric tape keeps them in the right spot during the day and they return to a paddock at night. Sheep are also going into vineyards.

Desperate for rain

Some areas in Canterbury are desperate for rain and it's now too late for much autumn growth. Many farmers have been feeding out for months already and will now continue through winter. Stock that are on winter feed are so far doing well and utilisation is very high because of the dry weather.

On the West Coast our contact at Barrytown is relieved to be drying off his dairy cows; his cull cows are still in a processing queue at the works though. The farmer has summed up the milking season succinctly: A wet start, a good middle and a crap end!  Other herds in the area are on winter crops, and people are getting lime on grass while the sun's out. Some farm workers are packing up their possessions and moving onto other farms as the first of June approaches.

A stock truck pulling onto SH1  north of Foxton.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

In South Otago, a dairy farmer Balclutha says weather-wise May's been great month. There's been seven millimetres of rain so the ground's firm under-hoof,  there've been some warm balmy days once the sun's up, and grass growth's still ticking along. Lots of silage is keeping cows going to the end of the season  - they've done well too, with milk production up 12 to 14 percent on last year.  Cull cows haven't gone to the works yet  because of covid 19 related processing delays.
It's been so dry in Wallacetown in Southland that our contact has 20 percent less grass available for stock, and his crop yields are back 20 percent too. He has finally been able to get lambs to the works and, after a three week delay, they weighed in at a solid 20kgs. Price-wise he says the market's holding up okay, but he's worried about what lies ahead as some countries that traditionally buy our lamb are heading into a recession.