16 Jul 2021

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:11 pm on 16 July 2021

Hawke's Bay orchards have had the right amount of winter chill this week, pruning and maintenance work is continuing in Marlborough's vineyards and calving's due to start in early August in Southland. On the Farm is a weekly wrap of conditions on farms and orchards around New Zealand.

Wairarapa vineyards in winter

Wairarapa vineyards in winter Photo: Supplied

Our contact in Northland says they've had a few frosts and about 25 millimetres of rain this week in the Dargaville area. They could do with a little more rain to keep things ticking along. The frosts don't help the kikuyu grass which is the more drought tolerant variety grown up this way. He says every man, dog and horse was expected at the rugby club park in town for the Howl of Protest on Friday.

Fine and often sunny days with some frost have prevailed this week around Pukekohe. Surface ground conditions are drying out. After a meeting this week, a number of growers decided to support the Groundswell NZ  "Howl of Protest " in a motorcade along the southern motorway to Auckland City. As an act of goodwill, vegetables are to be donated to the City Mission.

There's been frost upon frost this week in Waikato with an absolutely cracker on Wednesday. As our contact said, farmers are in the "guts" of winter. Pasture supply is still good and probably ahead of this time last year but soil moisture is still playing catch up after the dry autumn which could be a concern going into spring. Cows are in good condition and feed supplies are comfortable. Calving is underway. On the tech front, there's a lot of interest among farmers in new gadgets around measuring and monitoring pastures and stock. Farmers will soon be considering what they'll be planting for the spring bearing in mind lower soil moisture.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

A southerly blowing straight off Mt Ruapheu meant a very "raw" start to the week for our farmer contact near Te Puke in Bay of Plenty. But it had turned northerly by Friday and he was basking in about eight degrees. He was sorting out his early ewes when we called. They're due to lamb in about ten days time. It remains a mystery why a number of his older flock were carrying dead fetuses this year. A few of his neighbours had the same problem and they still haven't got to the bottom of it despite extensive testing. Still, he scanned at 163 percent, so lambing will be busy.

It's been pretty cold and wintry in Gisborne. Our contact says there've been no frosts this week but quite a bit of rain earlier. The lower country is in early lambing. Feed levels are not too bad for this time of year. The farmer was in his ute heading to the showgrounds for the big protest. A top dressing plane was expected to join in as well. He says farmers have had a gutsful - compliance costs are going through the roof.

Hawke's Bay orchards have had the right amount of winter chill this week - keeping trees dormant before the spring wake-up. Between zero and ten degrees is perfect. Soil moisture levels have been topped up with the dribs and drabs of rain they've been getting. The weather's been playing OK for pruning and a lot of focus has gone in to setting the trees up as well as possible for the next season.

Hawke's Bay generic,

Hawke's Bay Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

A vege farmer in Horowhenua was in his tractor heading to the protest in Levin when we called with about 20 others trailing behind him. It's been very cold this week but had warmed up again by Friday. That's slowed down vege production which has led to higher prices in the shops. For most farmers in the district, it's the calm before the storm with calving kicking off in the next week.

A farmer in Wairarapa had just come in from shifting electric fences - breakfeeding - when we called. He's doing it up to six times a day. That's why he always looks skinny in August he says! They've had some really hard frosts followed by beautiful fine days this week. Some of his ewes are set stocked ready for lambing in early August.

The Nelson region had a run of heavy frosts this week until Thursday, then farmers were preparing to monitor rain radars and the District Council's web pages for information about the approaching band of heavy rain.  Growth has stopped. Soils were wet before the frosts hit and lowered soil temperatures.  The bonus is the days have been beautiful and if you need to buy in feed it's available.  There are a lot of sheep in orchards and vineyards. We're told some people make a living out of fattening sheep under trees and between vines on others' land.  

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Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Marlborough's hill country is still in the depths of winter and the heavy frosts have been welcomed.  Sheep are behind hot wires and the amount of feed they are getting is being controlled, so there'll be plenty for them after lambing. Those pregnant with singletons are getting the equivalent of one and a half kilos of dry matter each per day and twinning ewes are allocated two and a half kilos.   The farmer says his farm has had 160 millimetres of rain since May and it's been a God-send. Soil moisture levels are finally very good. Pruning and maintenance work is continuing in vineyards and workers enjoyed spending much of the week in sunshine.

Westland Milk products isn't due to start picking up milk until 10 August - so there are no tankers on the road yet.  The end of the week was increasingly wet on the West Coast and farmers were bracing themselves for more very heavy rain at the weekend.  It's already damp underfoot and cows are being stood off paddocks to save pasture. Our contact says she was expecting to see a huge turnout of farmers on tractors and in utes in Hokitika, Westport and Greymouth - some were even heading to Fox . She says they've a lot of support from those living in rural towns, as people there rely on farmers for their incomes.  She says farmers have done a lot to improve environmental outcomes, but results take time and farmers are exhausted and frustrated by all the policy challenges they are trying to adapt to. She says they just want things to slow down a bit so they can be given the chance to catch up.

It's been a frosty cold week in Canterbury. The frosts have helped dry paddocks. Winter grazing of dairy heifers is coming to an end and, with calving approaching, some early ones are starting to develop udders. Feed levels remain tight, with recent grass growth halted by the hard frosts.

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North Otago Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Otago's high country has had a combination of stiff frosts and then some not so cold rain.  The farmer we called says river crossings to and from her farm have been a bit tricky to negotiate.  Her weaner calves are enjoying having kale on the menu. Stock are all sitting below the snow line. Feed covers are quite good as there was moisture when it was needed in autumn.  

A Southland farmer says it's been very wet. Next week his catchment group is taking a bus tour to look at different wintering practices on farms - people are opening up their properties to show how they are looking after their soils and managing their crops. Staff on his farm have all had holidays while it's been quiet and now they're just chipping through winter jobs. Calving's due to start on 4 August.