29 Jan 2021

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:12 pm on 29 January 2021
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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Temperatures plummeted in Canterbury this week from near 40 degrees to 2 on Friday morning. Hawke's Bay grape growers have had heat and rain when they've needed it this summer.

In Northland dairy farmers are desperate for rain but at least they have plenty of supplementary feed on hand. The beef market is a bit average - prime beef is fetching about $5 a kilogram. This week the first of this season's red kumara have been harvested in the region. The harvest will stretch out until early May. A grower says he's had 50 millimetres of rain for January - he too would like more.

The Pukekohe district's very dry.   It's often had south westerly breezes this month so temperatures have been a little lower than they could have been. Good crops of onions are being harvested and are going into storage and to packing sheds. Irrigators are being well used on many different crops.

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Photo: Stan Clark

Much of Waikato has had some good rain since Christmas but it has been a bit patchy.  With recent hot, fine days the region's dried out rapidly and it's hard to tell there's been any rain at all.  Dairy farmers are busily feeding silage so milk production is holding reasonably well. Farmers with covered pads have been using them - it's generally a couple of degrees cooler under cover than out in the open. Sprinklers are being turned on cows in the milking shed and they love it. Maize crops are looking fantastic

Our contact in the Bay of Plenty says he's had 10 times the amount of rain this January compared to last January - however 10 times not much is still not much - last January he had just 8 millimetres and this year it's been 80.  He recorded the lowest annual rainfall in 28 years for 2020.  His cows are milked once a day and he's pleased people and cows are not having to be in the shed in stifling mid-afternoon temperatures. The milk price is looking good.  As for kiwifruit, estimates are the industry will be 7 to 8 percent up in total volume this year - the worry is whether there will be enough people to pick and pack the crop. Kiwifruit growers are looking to the apple and grape industries to see how they cope with the worker shortage - then it'll be their turn.

There's moisture in the ground in King Country and it's been warm so mornings have been foggy. That makes mustering tricky and creates ideal conditions for flies.  Growth's been good and one farmer's cut his fourth cut of hay.  Calves have been weaned on beef farms and most of the shearing's done.

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Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Summer in Taranaki has ranged from reasonable to marvelous. Some parts of the province have had very good rain - the north more than the south. Other parts have watched dark clouds gather but have been disappointed. Milk production's good - plenty of hay and silage has been made. Some crops that were looking very poor have taken off after rain.

People on the east coast around Wairoa is looking forward to Monday - temperatures are expected to drop to 18C from the mid 30s of this week. The region's dried out very quickly and a farmer there says it's a ticking time bomb. There's a lot of dry, rank grass and they're very aware of the fire danger . He's been cooling off in the river - but nice, deep holes with cool bottoms have been hard to find - otherwise he's been sitting in the paddling pool at home with a hat on. Lots of sweetcorn went in unseasonably late - it's pulling away now.

A Hawke's Bay grape grower was inside trying to keep out of the heat when we rang - but ended up doing another hot job bottling plums instead.  It's been 37C in the vineyard this week. He says summer's been great - there's been rain and heat when growers have wanted it.  Grapes are changing colour now - 10 days earlier than usual. On farms north faces have really dried out but farms towards the hills and with south facing slopes are green.  

Wairarapa has had all but no rain this month - but a great spring set farmers up well for summer. January has been coolish - apart from the past week which has been a scorcher. Farmers want a couple of good rains in February please. Sheep farmers have been shearing and are looking forward to a quieter time now that job's done.

Manawatū had some really good rain after Christmas. Some good old Manawatū winds have been blowing and it's been warm. On farm there's more grass than usual for the time of year so there's no pressure for sheep farmers to sell stock. Down country people are looking to buy in animals to eat the grass.

Across Cook Strait to the Tasman region and irrigation's ramping on farms, vineyards and in orchards. Water rationing's on the cards next week for the Waimea Plains. Most people are gearing up for fruit picking, doing summer shoot removal and finishing off any late thinning. A grower near Richmond says he's employing two 75 year olds as he can't find younger seasonal workers. He reckons they're more reliable too. Significant crop losses are expected as a result of the boxing day hail storm, which left up to 100 millimetres of hail on the ground, and stones as big as marbles.

Awatere Valley, Marlborough

Awatere Valley, Marlborough Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Grapes are turning colour in Marlborough vineyards and rolls of bird netting are at the ready. It's been fiercely hot ... Sally clocked 39C as she drove out of Molesworth Station this week. The bulls are out with the cows there, and it's a 4am start for musterers to get work done before the heat really kicks in. The pandemic has led to a shortage of Indian salt. Blocks of it are used as salt licks for the cattle.

After having the fire going a week ago our contact at Barrytown on the West Coast says conditions have perked up this week. It's warmer and there's been more rain, he doesn't record how much but says the wheelbarrow's not full yet.  Farmers are re-grassing paddocks and weather permitting, making silage. Pregnancy testing's started, with results so far no better than average. Cows are ticking along nicely though, with milk production on par with last year.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

After good recent rains in Canterbury, summer hit with a vengeance this week with temperatures well into the mid 30's combined with norwest wind. While pretty tough to work in, a farmer at Hororata says it's been good for the start of harvest - early cereals and grass seed crops are coming off. Feed levels are okay at the moment although soil moisture has plummeted with the recent hot spell. South Canterbury farmers woke to a chilly morning on Friday with snow on the hills - it was 2C - 38 degrees less than on Tuesday.

Apricot on tree.

Photo: AFP

A fruit grower in Roxburgh in Central Otago says about 60 percent of his cherry crop has split due to rain. Luckily he grows other fruit. The apricot harvest has just come to and end and the ladders are up in the nectarine blocks. With it being cold and unusually wet, some of the stone fruit has been affected by rot. On a positive note he's had no problems finding seasonal staff.

The grass is growing like crazy in Southland after what has been a sometimes wet and sometimes sunny week. Dairy farmers are making baleage and silage and most winter crops are now in. A farmer at Edendale says his contract for palm kernel expired at the end of last year. It cost $280 tonne then, but now it's shot up to about $360, so he's not sure if he can afford it any more. A cheaper option is grain but he reckons cow condition's much better on palm kernel. Across the region, farmers are pretty happy with the latest forecast pay-out; finding reliable staff for farms is still a headache though. Staff poaching is becoming more commonplace and the farmer we talked to, said he's just about done with trying to find a Kiwi under 40.