25 Sep 2020

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:07 pm on 25 September 2020
No caption

A new-born calf at Greenhill Stud in Northland nestled out of the cold winds off the Tasman Sea. Photo: Jake Smith

It's been a kind spring so far with good lamb survival rates and a pleasing bud break in Hawke's Bay orchards but a lot more rain is needed around the country apart from the West Coast. Check out what's happening on farms and orchards around New Zealand.

Our contact in Northland told us "we need rain badly, mate", when we rang. He's got his fingers crossed for it coming through on Sunday. Feed levels are only "satisfactory" at the moment. The water table is low but dams are OK. Despite that farmers are pleased with the payout from Fonterra and the beef schedule is holding up.

Around Pukekohe irrigation's been on. Early potatoes, especially, are in need of watering as they're at a critical growth stage. A little rain mid week partly relieved the dryness, though, but more is needed. The long dry periods have meant low disease pressure on outdoor crops but rabbits are continuing to be a serious problem. Tonnes of onions and potatoes are still being exported to the Pacific islands.

In Waikato, while top soils are wet and pastures are growing well, the sub soils are still dry. The region needs several 50 millimetre dumps, but not all at once please! The feed situation is fine. Cows are in good condition, ready for mating in a few weeks.

No caption

Buds have broken on gold kiwifruit vines in Bay of Plenty Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

This week has meant time for a break in a Bay of Plenty dairy and kiwifruit operation. Calving finished last week, mating's a few weeks away and pruning's over. Bud break is happening in green and gold kiwifruit. Like most regions, though, they could do with more rain. Even with visa changes and border exemptions to allow more overseas workers into the agriculture and horticulture industries, our contact says there is increasing nervousness about the labour supply for the season ahead.

An "out of the box" winter

It's been a winter "out of the box" in Taranaki and now the grass is growing, calving's gone without a hitch and cows are cycling well ready for mating. Most farmers are in a comfortable position. But, while Taranaki has been one of those regions least affected by Covid and the dry, the Rural Support Trust - which looks after farmer welfare - has had more calls than normal from the region's farming community. Pressures being put on farmers, on top of the general stress brought on by the pandemic, are causing more to seek help.

It's been an exceptional lambing period on the East Coast with particularly good lamb survival rates. Some areas could do with a bit of rain now to keep the grass moving. Dams have pretty well replenished but some farmers on the coast are noticing springs are running a bit more slowly. There is some apprehension around the effect of the second wave of Covid-19 in main markets overseas and what that will mean for the demand for New Zealand lamb. Despite that prices are holding up. The lamb schedule is at the high end of the six dollar mark, close to seven.

No caption

Early variety apples are starting to blossom in Hawke's Bay Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

In Hawke's Bay, everything is racing in the orchards. Early variety apples are starting to blossom. Later varieties are at bud break or just past.  This season's good temperatures mean a compressed bud break and a relatively short flowering period. It makes harvest easier to manage.  Most peach, nectarines and plums are through flowering and cherries are close to full bloom.

A consultant in Manawatū was checking the weather forecast when we rang to see what the region would be in for after a fabulous week of sunshine and some good rain. The soil is dry for the end of September and they will take any more rain that comes their way. He's advising farmers to put an extra hectare or three of summer feed crop in to prepare for a dry summer. The great weather has meant plenty of silage being made. Lambing in the hill country is well underway. Calving is pretty much done and dusted.

Horowhenua has had variable amounts of rain this week. It's been mild and grass is leaping out of the ground on dairy farms. Crops are growing well and asparagus is being harvested every day now. Volumes should increase significantly with the help of a large team of mostly Samoan workers. Because of the restricted border, they've been here for a year now instead of heading home after the fruit harvest. The asparagus harvest  has filled an employment hole for them. The large Samoan community in the region has welcomed them in and our contact says the workers speak to their families back home every day to try to keep homesickness at bay.

No caption

Asparagus crops are being harvested every day now Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

It's been a mixed week in Wairarapa - windy with some quite good rain too. Lambing's largely finished and farmers are preparing for docking. Our contact says they're adequately happy as they brace for more drying spring winds. He says Wairarapa winds are a bit of a legend.  

The north of the South Island had a beautiful week with lots of sunshine - nothing like the forecast substantial rain. There was just the odd shower Friday morning. There was wind however. The willows are coming into flower. Grass growth rates are good and spring is really starting to hit. After a terrific start with dry weather and sunshine, milk production is well up on the same time last year.

Marlborough received decent rain a week ago, but since then there have been hot nor'west winds which have dried things out again.  Pastures are growing and with the dry this week farmers are racing to get crops in before the forecast rain arrives later this weekend which they're looking forward to. A lot more is needed.

Fences smashed

There was a huge downpour on the West Coast mid week and when we called a farmer contact on Friday morning he was out repairing fences that were smashed down with flood water.  It's only been the past couple of weeks that have been really trying weather-wise, however, so he wasn't too fazed.  Cows are struggling a bit with the weather and money is being spent on palm kernel to help them get condition back ready for mating.
It's been hot and dry in Canterbury with temperatures up to the mid 20s and wind to go with it. This has triggered irrigation to start as soil moisture is starting to drop away. Pasture growth is good and a lot of early season baleage is being made.

South Canterbury had a good week with really good grass growth rates. It's getting a bit dry in the southern parts of the region, but elsewhere it's still moist with enough rain to keep the wolf from the door for now.  Long term a lot more replenishing rain is needed.  Tailing is underway on sheep farms in the lower country, but higher country lambing is only just kicking into gear.  Temperatures crept up to 23 degrees this week here too. Our contact thinks they'll be brought back to reality over the next few days. On the cropping side of things, plants are starting to grow so farmers are getting ready to apply spray and fertiliser.  Crops can be anything from wheat and barley to vegetables and other small seed crops.  Politically, farmers are worrying about dealing with new rules and regulations around farming.

No caption

Valai lambs in North Canterbury Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

For half an hour on Friday morning a 5 millimetre shower of rain hit around Oturehua in Central Otago. The farmer we spoke to knew that because he was getting ready for merino shearing which was underway when we called. He says the rain was needed and while the valley is looking OK, further out in the hills it is already getting dry. Temperatures have been around 17 and 18 degrees so grass is growing. Even the clover is moving.  Some farms will be starting lambing from around this weekend, so it's maybe par for the course that rather rough weather is on its way.   

Southland had a pretty good week, which was needed after tough conditions the week before. Most sheep farmers are now well through lambing ... two thirds to three quarters done.  Spring has been good to date although just recently conditions have been a little frustrating because the ground dries out just enough to contemplate tractor work and then it rains again.

On the Farm is a weekly wrap of farming conditions around New Zealand