5 Feb 2021

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:12 pm on 5 February 2021
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Photo: Sophie Barnes

Over much of New Zealand pasture quality is dropping in the heat but stock are generally doing well. There are some sensational Hawkes Bay nectarines in shops. Find out more in our wrap of what's happening on the farms and orchards of New Zealand.

In Northland, north of Dargaville it's very dry - compounded by last year's drought and having not quite recovered from that. The bull farmer we called says her bulls are heading to the works a bit lighter than usual and prices are back, but still OK.  Northland's first dog trial for the season is on tomorrow at a neighbour's farm - there hasn't been one for two years because of Covid. One hundred dogs are expected.

Pukekohe has had another week of fine, warm weather, perfect for drying and harvesting onions. For growers producing other vegetables, it's relentless work applying irrigation. With soil cracking open, the potato tuber moth is bound to be inflicting damage on developing spuds.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

South Waikato has had magic weather - if you've been on holiday. The grass is getting a bit crispy though.  Cows have more feed ahead of them than on farms in the north of the region but they are starting to struggle in the heat.  Summer weekends have seen lots of boats on the hydro lakes.

In the Bay of Plenty the avocado harvest is very close to the end ... a number of small packhouses have closed and there's just a late tail of supply, mainly heading to Australia where the market's been reasonably buoyant.  A grower and packhouse owner who has been in the business almost 40 years says this season, trees produced the smallest fruit he's ever known. He says that's the result of two winter droughts and last year's biting summer drought.  The fruit's tasting great at the moment - it always does at the end of the season when it's mature and buttery. He says the local market will be well supplied possibly until May - people have been harvesting any larger fruit which will leave smaller fruit on the trees to size-up.  

Taranaki had a cool wind on Friday but the sun was shining and the grass growing. Milk production is surging ahead of last year.

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Photo: Anna Nelson

Across to the Gisborne region and, from Tolaga Bay north, it's particularly dry. Generally people are nervous about buying in stock after last year's drought as they're not sure what the rest of summer will deliver. The man who set up the Surfing for Farmers programme says it's gone nuts across the country. Steven Thompson says it's now taking place on 16 beaches from Whangarei to Southland. Last week 306 farmers took the opportunity to get off the farm and into the water.

Hawkes Bay's stone fruit harvest is winding down. There are some incredibly good nectarines around at the moment. Golden Queens are yet to come off - not that there are many of them any more. The crop's about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago.  Early apples are being picked, even some Royal Gala. The season seems to get earlier and earlier. The consultant we spoke to says in 1994 there was a big hailstorm on March 3. He had to assess the crop and none of the Royal Gala had been picked. He says if you went looking for it on March 3 these days there wouldn't be many left on the trees.

In Wairarapa a bit of drizzle was cooling things down on Friday morning. The ground's pretty hard.  Stock are looking good and processing plants are going full bore.

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Photo: willi

Rangitikei farmers have been enjoying a really settled spell and have been able to get onto the thistles and into the shearing shed.  Feed's disappearing, as is expected at this time of year.  Lambs have been heading off to the works - 19 kilogram lambs are fetching just under $120  - which isn't quite as good as hoped but is still not too shabby.

Huge amounts of silage and hay are being made in Horowhenua.  It's becoming dry but farmers are in a good position with all that feed on hand. Outdoor strawberry growers have finished for the season but strawberries grown in tunnels will keep going until May or June. There's still a very small amount of asparagus floating around the country - it's coming from a farm at Mangaweka.

Across Cook Straight to Nelson and level one water restrictions are in place on the Waimea Plains, as conditions continue to get drier.  With picking starting on early apples and pears next week, many growers are seeking labour for harvesting and running the sheds. The clean-up after the boxing day hailstorm continues for the apple, hops, kiwifruit and berry crops. Sixty percent of the region's kiwifruit gold crop was destroyed - equating to 2.1 million trays. Forty percent  of the Hayward variety has been lost, so about 400,000 trays. Outside of the hail-hit areas, fruit quality and size is looking good.

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Photo: supplied

Marlborough's very dry but that's normal for early February. It's a quiet time of the year for hill farmers with sheep on rotation and cows and calves following behind doing the cleaning up. Our contact says the main thing is making sure stock have plenty of water and shade. In vineyards pinot noir grapes are in the veraison stage, the beginning of ripening, and sauvignon blanc grapes are not far behind. Most growers are looking at a low tonnage this year, some down as much as 30 percent.

A West Coast farmer up the Grey Valley says he's pleased the ground is drying out after a lot of rain last week and having the sun out has been a boost for man and beast.  Farmers have been busy cultivating paddocks and weed spraying swede and fodder beet crops. Cows are trundling along OK but he says milk production's back a bit on last season.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

In Canterbury it feels like autumn has arrived with cooler temperatures and damp dewy mornings - great for growing grass but not so good for harvesting crops. Drying facilities for grain and seed are going to be in high demand this year if this weather remains.  A farmer says he's just sold his wool from shearing at Christmas time -  $1 per kg for mainline ewe fleece, which is, sadly, well below the cost of production.

South Otago's  been warm, sunny and dry. The last time it rained was about 10 days ago, causing flooding on the Taieri Plains, so this week tractors have been out re-grassing  damaged paddocks. Most crops are in and people are busy making baleage and silage. A dairy farmer at Balclutha's just finished six week in-calf pregnancy testing. She says the result is a pleasing 74 percent. Milk production's average this season though, as keeping pasture quality up has been a challenge.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

There are lots of bales of winter crops lining paddocks around Southland, so farmers are looking pretty for winter. Our contact at Winton says whiles there's a good bed of feed, he's hoping his lambs can add some extra weight before they go to the works. An extra two kilos will put another 10-or-so dollars in the backpocket.  Dairy-wise some herds are being put onto 16 hour milking from twice a day. This takes the pressure off staff and means the cows don't have to do so much walking.

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