30 Oct 2020

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:11 pm on 30 October 2020
Charolais cattle in lush spring pasture in Manawatū.

Charolais cattle in lush spring pasture in Manawatū. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

Avocados are coming off trees thick and fast and retirees are putting their hands up for seasonal work in Central Otago.

And now to our look around the country - the Far North consultant we called was in the middle of a paddock spraying when we rang - black clouds were gathering around him and he expected to be rained off... Rain has been coming in very useful dribs and drabs but the west coast near Dargaville hasn't had as much. He says his district's sitting in a very sweet spot.

Pukekohe has dried out this week with calm, fine 20 degree days. Some outdoor growers have held off irrigating hoping for showers and others have continued to apply water. It is an uncommon sight in spring to see potato crops irrigated.  Land zoned residential is under pressure for development as house builders seek dwindling numbers of sections. If that is not a big enough issue, Water Care is wanting to take a large volume of aquifer water that the vegetable industry uses too. Water Care is expected to get priority. Our grower contact is wondering how much longer Pukekohe will remain a major vegetable production area.

A farmer near Paeroa in Waikato says they've been planting crops but when the contractor came to do the work he had to disc the paddocks twice because it was so dry. Silage is due to be cut. Milk production's up 6 percent up for the season. Artificial breeding has four weeks to go. He says everyone's screaming out for rain - which is weird for October.

No caption

Photo: Susan Murray RNZ

The Bay of Plenty kiwifruit grower we spoke to was having a serious talk to the bees on his property when we rang. Gold vines are in full flower and it had been a bit damp overnight so the bees were sluggish getting to work. The avocado harvest is going full bore. Fruit is on the smaller size because of the drought. Prices are firm. In the Australian market New Zealand avocados have competition for the first time from Chilean avocados but that hasn't affected prices so far.

In King Country there's been some good rain and grass is growing - however people are still cautious about buying in stock. Dairy beef bulls are particularly hard to sell.  Most of the docking is done and people are reasonably happy with the results, calving is starting on the hills.

Taranaki has had a few cooler days and the driest spot in the province, south Taranaki, was lucky to get the region's biggest dump of rain this week - 50 to 60 millimetres. A lot of silage is being made. The flush of milk production has passed and most people are travelling ahead of last year. Small businesses are the lifeblood of small towns and there's talk some are struggling so people are being encouraged to shop locally. Some transport companies are hurting - a lot of their work is contract deliveries, but because some contracts have fallen over and others haven't, they are having to cart half-loads to their destinations.

No caption

Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Hawke's Bay has had 30 mils of rain on the plains and more in the hills. With the heat at Labour weekend growth's gone mad in vineyards. Growers are still trying to finish off shoot thinning, early varieties are flowering two weeks early and there's mowing to be done. A shortage of labour means it's hard to get through the jobs and on to the next one.  

Manawatū and Rangitikei have had a few cold days in the last week but that also brought welcome rain and was followed up by warmth. Crops are getting up out of the ground. Docking's seen really good lamb numbers coming out of the hill country.

Hunterville is readying for its Shemozzle this weekend when shepherds and their dogs descend on the town to compete on a gruelling obstacle course

Hunterville is readying for its Shemozzle this weekend when shepherds and their dogs descend on the town to compete on a gruelling obstacle course Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Wairarapa also had good rain; 30 mils near Greytown and every drip has gone where it deserves to be. Wool prices have ticked up - they are way off exciting but if you have a well-wooled sheep it might possibly be cost-neutral now to shear her. A recent report has shown New Zealand's sheep and beef farms are already close to being carbon neutral. The farmer we called says there are a lot of people talking green but not acting green and farmers, who don't talk green but actually act green, are still painted as a bunch of baddies ruining New Zealand.

Asparagus is growing with gusto in Horowhenua. More asparagus than usual is being sent to a cannery in Hawke's Bay. Internationally the demand for canned produce has increased - on the back of Covid. People want a few more preserves in their pantries. Rain has freshened things up beautifully. Tractor work was interrupted but generally people are very busy making silage. Field strawberries are just starting but tunnel house strawberries have been on the market for a month.

Growth in vineyards in Nelson is about 10 days ahead of normal. Our contact says there was a wonderful buy in from the public for the recent annual wine tasting at the Boat Shed. He says tickets sold out in three days ... apparently tonneage wise Nelson produces marginally more than Central Otago.
Marlborough farmers are sending the first lot of spring lambs to either the meat works or to the store market. Prices are about $1 per kilo back on last year for killable lambs which equates to a drop of between $15 and $20. Twenty millimetres of rain did fall on Monday night which has helped, but there's still a huge deficit. Soil temperatures are quite low inland too so grass isn't rocketing away and there's no surplus. 

No caption

Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Temperatures have warmed up a bit in the past few days on the West Coast and land is drying out a bit but it's still really wet. The Lake Brunner area received over 30mm mid week, while other parts got triple that. A bit of silage is being made on run-off properties but nothing is being made on milking platforms, and mightn't be this season.
Our farm consultant contact in North Canterbury had plenty to say this week ... on the weather front the upper plains have received 15 to 25mm, lower land a bit less ... 10 to 12mm. It was a big relief seeing it fall but there's a long way to go in the growing season and irrigators are now going. Lambing percentages are about 5 percent down compared with long term averages although for some the drop is 10 to 20 percent ... that's the result of the drought during mating time. He says in his three-plus years of consulting, it's a long time since he's seen so many farmers so frustrated. It all stems from the government's fresh water policy. Every conversation is about how will the farm survive ... the rules are unworkable and incomprehensible. There's talk rules relating to winter grazing will destroy some businesses because they're getting swept up in a catch-all net that shouldn't include them. He says farmers don't disagree on the objectives but rule makers are ignorant about basic farming systems. Farmers are being asked to sign consent documents not knowing the implications of saying yes or no to most of the questions. He says ethically he can't encourage clients to break the law, but most of them probably will. 

Otherwise, in mid-Canterbury the baleage and silage season so far has been pretty slow and probably getting too late for dryland areas. There's concern about the gradual slide in the beef schedule.

Our orchardist in Central Otago was standing in a hydra-ladder when we called ... it was his first day of reaching high into peach trees to hand thin flowers.  He says flowering has been good for nectarines and plums too, but light on apricots. There was a lovely rain mid week and the hills are looking green. Apparently enquiries are starting to come in from retirees and students locked in the country about work in Central.
In Southland about 55mm of rain fell over the weekend so things got sodden again. Farmers are busy tailing.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes