14 Aug 2020

On the Farm - a weekly wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:07 pm on 14 August 2020

There's been perfect lambing weather in the North Island and calves are arriving early in Otago. Check out what has been happening on the farms and orchards of New Zealand.

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Photo: Sophie Barnes

In Northland, a farmer in Ruawai told us the weather was beautiful when we rang on Friday and he was hoping to knock off early to enjoy it. He says grass is bolting out of the ground and everyone is thrilled. The Kaipara area had about 30 millimetres of rain to start the week off. The kumara fields are starting to be laid out in preparation for planting in October and November. He says Northland feels like a bit of an island at the moment because of the Covid lockdown in Auckland.

It was a wet start to the week in Pukekohe. By Tuesday 37mm of rain had fallen but as expected, the sunny mild weather made a come back and the mixed weather stimulated plant growth. The possible extension of the second covid-19 lockdown won't be great for growers.  If there is an abundance of produce for sale to independent greengrocers and they cannot trade, a lot of produce could be wasted.

Around the Bay of Plenty, the weather gods have been kind to local farmers. Those on the flats have good grass cover but the hill country sheep and beef farms are still struggling a bit for feed. Scanning percentages are significantly down on previous years due to the harsh summer but farmers says this works in their favour because they wouldn't have the grass to feed high numbers of lambs.

Useful rain

Waikato had some useful rain on Monday and Tuesday but by the end of the week the sun was shining. The sweet smell of silage was lingering in the cool air in one region on Thursday. Some very very early asparagus has poked its spears up. Our contact says it was 10kg worth, and is weeks earlier than normal. Some dairy farmers are three quarters of the way through calving and have been delighted with the conditions.  

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Photo: Sophie Barnes

King Country has been sunny and warm - at least earlier in the week. Calving's just started on dairy farms but there's not a lot of grass in front of the cows. Feed levels across the region are varied - winter's been kind and there has been better growth than usual but that's after a very harsh late summer and a delayed autumn.  A sheep farmer says lambs are popping out left, right and centre on his farm - in fantastic lambing conditions. Some King Country farms though don't start lambing until next month.  Taumarunui residential and lifestyle properties are in hot demand - a farmer we spoke to has just sold two blocks - she says after lockdown there was huge interest and there are sold signs all around town - it's mainly newcomers to town who are snapping them up.

This week has been cooler than last in Taranaki - but probably representative of a more average winter.  Some farms have too much grass. Taranaki  residents are hoping their relative isolation will help keep covid out.  It'd be easy to set up road blocks as there are only two main roads and two back roads that lead into the province.


Cold weather in Gisborne has been an absolute blessing for grape growers - they want to delay an early season because it subjects vulnerable vines to frosts in September. The region is really prospering with the development of apple and kiwifruit orchards and there's talk of people land banking with the view to planting more kiwifruit at some stage. A wine maker says it's pleasing to see some of his counterparts replanting . Ten years ago they were pulling out chardonnay vines and now they going back in...

Hawkes Bay is looking green but feed is still short. A farmer on one large station is feeding out  40 tonnes of silage a day to 2-thousand 200 head of cattle.  Usually at this time of year there are also 24-thousand lambs on the property but this year there's only enough grass for 12 thousand.  

It's been perfect spring lambing weather in Wairarapa. A sheep and beef farmer says there's no excuse for a wet dry ewe ... a ewe that's lost a lamb. He says it's the driest spell of weather he's ever seen at this time of year and possibly the warmest too. He can even drive a ute into places he wouldn't normally go near because of mud.

Half way through calving

In Manawatu, the dairy farmer we spoke to says they are officially half way through calving - in great conditions. Apart from 5 mls of rain on Wednesday, the sun has been shining. Looking over the boundary fence, he says lambing's started at the neigbours and the lambs have been loving the sun. There's some concern among dairy farmers Covid restrictions  might mean spring calf sales will be postponed, which will put extra pressure on  to feed more calves.

South Island

Apple pruning's well through in the Nelson/Golden Bay area and fertiliser's being applied to catch the early growth. Flowers on stone fruit trees are appearing already and the peony crop's about two weeks ahead of normal, with some stems standing at 300 millimetres already. The region's only had about 60 percent of normal rainfall this year, so it's been a dry winter and river levels are not very high.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Hill country farms in Marlborough are set stocked for lambing on covers that are less than desirable. Pastures are still green but it's dry underneath. A good 50 millimetres of warm rain's needed to set things up for spring. Trading stock are behind hotwires on allocated feed and getting no more. Pruning and trellis maintenance is well through in the provinces vineyards.    

Need rain

North Canterbury could do with some rain - but farmers are being careful about what they wish for because it would impact on lambing - wet and cold lambs don't survive.  A Pyramid Valley farmer reckons some northwesterly showers with no wind would be ideal. Over the next two weeks the bulk of his 7500 lambs will be born and a lot of his time will be spent checking to make sure they're okay.

Some farmers remember snow falling on the Canterbury Plains in August and September are are hoping they won't see them again. Early spring pasture growth has been high. Spring-sown cereal crops are going in with the good ground conditions.

In Mackenzie Basin, near Twizel, spring is on the way. It's been another fine week -  but no one is putting the thermals away too soon. The farmer we spoke to says that he spent six hours walking the cows into the yards on Wednesday for a drench on Thursday and is walking them all the way back home on Friday. He says he won't see them again until after calving. Pre-lamb shearing starts next week, so the weekend is going to be busy bringing the ewes to the shed.   

A Grey Valley farmer on the West Coast says it's been a fine week and grass is growing well despite some early morning frosts. Dairy cows are on silage, fodder beet and swedes. They were due to start calving two days ago so he's waiting for the busy period to kick in.

Educational visit of a farm for kids

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The rotary milking platform's started turning on our contact's farm near Balclutha in South Otago. His herd of 950 cows weren't due to start calving until August the 23rd, but some are early so he reckons he'll have 120 calves on the ground by then.  Apart from younger stock on winter feed crops,  cows are wintering in sheds and getting two feeds of silage a day. Once calves are born they go to another area and the mums are sent out to paddocks. Weather-wise it's been damp and cold but at 5 degrees warmer in the sheds, the cows aren't complaining.

Feed levels are still tight in Southland but sunny weather has given pasture growth a welcome  boost. Most dairy farms are into calving now. Herds that have polished off winter crops are getting a top-up of balage and palm kernel. In the west of the region, a Blackmount Valley farmer says his ewes have been shorn, crutched and are ready for lambing in mid-September. His hogget's have scanned at 100 percent - a pretty good result he reckons,  considering how challenging the conditions were earlier this year.