19 Feb 2021

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:07 pm on 19 February 2021
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Crown pumpkins are maturing and should be arriving at retailers soon. Photo: Supplied

Good rain helped ease the dry in the north and South Canterbury farmers woke up to two frosts this week. Find out more in our wrap of what's happening on the farms and orchards of New Zealand.

Farmers in Northland are breathing a slight sigh of relief after good rain this week helped ease dry conditions. Kaitaia received about 150 millimetres and down the way in Whangarei, they got about 120 mms. The farmer we spoke to says it saved the season. However, good follow-up rain is needed in the coming weeks to ensure the rain doesn't go to waste.

Thirty millimetres of rainfall on Monday was very welcome on the very dry soils around Pukekohe. Some strong wind was only of minor inconvenience. From mid week onwards, days were dry, bright and sunny with irrigation systems turned on. Crown pumpkins are maturing and should be arriving at retailers soon.

Some parts of Waikato copped the rain better than others this week - ten to 25 millimetres in central areas and up to 40 millimetres in the north of the region. But then the wind came through. Hey, but it's summer. Maize crops are being harvested and pregnancy testing's underway and our contact says the latest average was 16 percent empty cows - slightly up on last year. There's uncertainty why.

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Western Waikato Photo: Susan Murray/RNZ

A farmer in King Country had 40 mms of rain this week which ended with beautiful fine weather. Tupping has started - a few rams have gone out. While the weather and feed levels have been fine, farmers are feeling the pinch of lower cattle and lamb prices this year.

That hoped for rain arrived in Bay of Plenty too this week. A farmer in the west was very pleased with his 80 mms and some guys further inland got 140 mms. It soaked in and the grass is already turning from brown to green. But some of the rotting grass is prime breeding territory for facial ezcema spores.

A winemaker in Gisborne has set up pods on his vineyard to house workers arriving for busy times ahead. The lack of housing for harvest workers has been a worry. They've now managed to get a full crew for the harvest, including half a dozen foreigners already in the country. Our contact's particularly excited to be employing a lot of young local people this season.  The grapes are about ten days ahead of normal picking should start on March the 2nd.

Hawkes Bay had about 35 mms-odd of rain this week but the warmth straight afterwards meant the rain didn't have much effect. The three day lockdown in Auckland had an impact on the week's sales, similar to a long weekend. Buyers don't buy as much produce because they don't think they can sell as much however the independent retailers were still buying. The apple harvest is now well and truly underway, and students' return to uni is causing some anxiety among growers. They're wondering who will pick the fruit for the next month or so.

The farmer we spoke to in Taranaki, says out of his five years sharemilking in the region, this season is by far the best. The milk pay out rose to its highest level in nearly seven years this week and farmers were stoked. On the farm, grass is bolting out of the ground. Farmers say it's not very often a good grass growing season lines up with a strong pay-out.

St George's Chruch, Mataroa

St George's Chruch, Mataroa Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Our contact in Manawatu-Rangitikei says good rain this week means all of a sudden people can start making some decisions as they'd been in a bit of a holding pattern. Lambs will start growing again and land can be put into crops. The seed rep's been around this week to talk about regrassing for the winter, another draft of lambs is off to the works and a nice spell of weather now means some R and M like gorse spraying. Chilling space has been filling up at processing plants because of shipping holdups.

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Wairarapa hills Photo: Supplied

An arable farmer in Wairarapa is in the thick of harvest with barley underway at the moment. Peas and rye grass are already in. They were held up a couple of days by the rain this week which brought 35 mms to their farm. Out at the coast, farmers were chuffed to receive 70 mms. Our contact has been busy raising awareness about safety on farms. She says wearing a seatbelt on farm would make such a difference to farm fatality rates.

Fruit harvesting's underway in the Nelson/Motueka region.  Royal Gala apples are coming off and  a grower near Richmond says he's picking Taylor's Gold, Peckham and Nashi pears. The fruit quality's fine, but a couple of heavy frosts last October has resulted in some surface damage.  He says 55 percent of the district's total pear crop was destroyed by the Boxing day hail storm. Staffing's still an issue, with signs on roads seeking seasonal workers.

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A farm dog in between jobs in Marlborough high country Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Marlborough's high country is dry but our contact at the top of the Waihopai Valley says it's been a good year for growth. The merinos are coming down soon for weaning and crutching. He says when he was young he'd have to walk up and get them as the land, that goes up to 1500 meters, is too steep for horses. Now a ute can get to the top of the station  - so all the shepherds have to do is walk the sheep down with their dogs. How times have changed! He says he's also using some lower land to diversify into deer, so this week the high fences have been going in.

A farmer at Whataroa on the West Coast says there's been no rain for 10 days. It's forecast for next Wednesday so her fingers are crossed that it arrives. The annual rainfall there is about five metres, but dry periods like this are not unusual during late summer. She says the cows are on summer turnips and grass, and milk levels are above average. Pregnancy scanning's underway and the first cut of silage is wrapped and ready for winter.

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An irrigator at work in Canterbury Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Down the road in South Canterbury, farmers have woken up to two frosts this week. Far too cold for Feburary but a sign autumn is on the way.

The peach and nectarine harvest in Central Otago is still running a  week to ten days ahead of normal.  There's been enough labour to pick the fruit.  The weather's been great for harvesting and the growers are hoping the overlap they've had with Hawkes Bay fruit will now ease off and prices can creep up for them a little.

Top dressing in King Country

Top dressing in King Country Photo: Sophie Barnes

In Southland people have been top dressing to keep grass going, winter crops are doing okay and even though it's not overly dry, a farmer near Invercargill says he's surprised at how some paddocks cut for bailage are slow to respond. His cows are on a 16-hour-a-day milking regime and production levels are holding up well. Across the board, farmers were very pleased with news of a pay-out increase. This is likely to help reduce debt and pay for environmental changes on farm.

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