16 Apr 2021

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:13 pm on 16 April 2021
Quince harvest

Quince harvest Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Farmers are starting to struggle in a drier than normal autumn in many places around the country. In Hawke's Bay apple picking conditions have been fabulous with fine, windless days.

There has been a bit of rain to freshen things up in Northland. The feed situation is just average though. A lot of cows are going to the works. It is the time of year for culling. There have been several farm sales in the district. Even farms that have been on the market for a while are changing hands. The bigger ones are staying in dairy but our contact says buyers are diversifying into vegetables, forestry and even peanut growing.

Around Pukekohe there has been rapid growth in crops with warm days prevailing but lettuce growers were not amused by their crops  failing to develop tight hearts. Mid week the weather turned and a cold front delivered heavy rainfall with lower temperatures. Storage sheds are full of large onions. The smaller ones have been heading to an uncertain European market.

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Photo: Susan Murray/RNZ

It has been hot and humid in Waikato. Some areas are struggling to get enough rain. The ground just swallows up what falls. A farmer near Te Awamutu got 70 millimetres but he wonders where it went. He has been feeding out maize and grass silage. Dairy farmers are winding down for the season, starting to dry off cows, doing maintenance and looking for staff to take some time off before calving. Milk production has been better than last year.

A farmer in western Bay of Plenty had about 40 millimetres of rain this week. But one creek has gone dry for the first time in a century - a product perhaps of below average rainfall over the last two years. Milk production is 30 percent ahead on last year - which wasn't great because of the dry. The brix - or sugar levels - have been slow to come up in the kiwifruit orchard this year, perhaps a function of warm days and not enough cold nights. With 180 million trays to pick over a more compressed time frame, one grower fears a bit of a train smash in a couple of weeks.

It has been a pick'n'mix of weather in Taranaki this week - rain, wind, sun, even a bit of thunder and a slight dusting of snow on the mountain one day. Most dairy farms have plenty of feed so they can milk into May.

It is much drier than this time last year on the East Coast - only a skiff of rain this week - which is making a lot of people nervous. They are holding cattle, hoping for the market to lift. The feed situation is starting to bite as we head into winter. Rams are out and farmers are trying to keep ewes well fed. Despite the dry most stock are still in pretty good condition.

In Hawke's Bay there are pretty good tallies coming off apple orchards where there is skilled labour. Some keen pickers can pick seven or eight bins a day - at about $40 a bin - whereas less enthusiastic pickers only fill a bin and a half. Picking conditions have been fabulous with fine, windless days. The Fuji harvest is winding down and Pink Lady and Envy are still coming off the trees.

Envy apples from T&G Global

Envy apples Photo: Supplied

One of our Manawatū contacts was busy competing at the local dog trials when we called. She says the area has had rain this week. Cows have scanned pretty well - there was so much grass they had few excuses for not getting in calf.  Now the rams are out.

Wairarapa has had fine settled weather and about five millimetres of rain this week after good rain the previous week. Temperatures have been in the 20s and contractors have been hard out regrassing. Dairy farmers will be milking as long as they can because of the higher payout. A farmer has been talking to meat processors who say they are expecting a flood of cull cows in May. The beef schedule is 15 cents a kilo ahead of last year.

A water race in South Wairarapa

A water race in South Wairarapa Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Nelson has had another wet week. It has been a very kind season with plenty of grass to keep the cows happy. Farmers are making sure they are all set for winter, ensuring pasture is ahead of stock, doing maintenance and having a think about mistakes from this season and how they can avoid them in the next. One says it has been one of those seasons where everything has just gone to plan.

In Marlborough, it is a different story. Things are still dry and it is starting to get cold when most would prefer a warm autumn which would give a bit more growth before winter. Farmers are trying their best to keep their animals fed, but difficult choices around buying feed or de-stocking are being made. Some areas are in their second dry year and it is starting to take a toll. Our contact wants others to take good care of their health and well-being - get off farm if they can or give the Rural Support Trust a bell for a confidential chat. He says they need to know they won't be judged for putting their hand up and saying they're doing it tough.

The West Coast has been damp - a little rain was needed but the heavy falls can stop. More fine days are on order now. On dairy farms, cull cows are being sent off to the works. If the weather allows and it doesn't get too soggy under-foot, some farmers will try to milk to the end of May.

The dry continues in Canterbury with farms the most east the driest. For some the dry conditions are forcing some tough decisions. It is a real shame as the temperatures are warm and if moisture was around grass would grow! Many farmers are trying to get rid of the last of their lambs and cattle before winter and processors are battling with lack of shipping containers to put product in.

The Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

South Otago is becoming uncomfortably dry. There has been no significant rain for seven or eight weeks now  - a millimetre here and there has been enough to give pasture a green tinge.  Paddocks really need some growth before  winter arrives. Winter crops like swedes, fodder beet and kale won't yield well unless the have a drink. Baleage is already being fed to sheep. The rams have done their stuff and farmers are now waiting for a good May.

Southland has had the odd hot day and then the fire has had to be lit.  A good dollop of rain has arrived. The farmer we called says they plan to milk until the 27th of May but have cut down to once a day milking to keep the weight on the cows. Milk production is nice and steady.

On the Farm is a wrap of conditions on farms and orchards around New Zealand