11 Feb 2022

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:15 pm on 11 February 2022
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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

In Northland - floors are slippery and walls damp in the humidity . Farms are wet and green - a farmer in the Bay of Islands says his kikuyu grass is growing at a rate of 80 kilogrammes per hectare per day - when typically if would be 15 at this time of year.  His lawn's seven centimetres long - and he mowed it last Sunday! He's given his young stock slow release zinc this week to prevent facial eczema - his spore count was 80-thousand before the rain - anything over 30-thousand is considered toxic.

In the vegetable growing area of Pukekohe 53 mm of rain was recorded early this week but with near 30 degree days afterwards, there is now no sign of it. Summer's been excellent for the proliferation of rabbits and pukeko - rabbits are eating seedlings down to the ground and pukeko are pulling them out - they're causing considerable damage. Pukeko also love corn cobs...

Waikato has had fantastic rain, most places had between 40 and 80 millimetres but some ... more, and if the forecast rain arrives this weekend it will be a drought breaker.  Facial eczema spore numbers are expected to rocket. An ag consultant says farmers should drop the odd pasture sample into the vet to get the real figures for their farm rather than rely on local gossip.  They should be using boluses, putting zinc in the water supply or drenching.  Cows are still producing at pretty low levels because of heat stress, the humidity and low pasture quality. Many cows are getting two thirds of their daily feed from supplements.  

A Waikato blueberry growers says they welcomed the rain too - even though it's caused a bit of splitting and softening in the fruit. His orchard only had 3.6 millimetres of rain for the entire month of January.  He's picking Rabbit Eye blueberries at the moment - and they're mostly heading overseas to Australia. There are some issues with flights being cancelled.  He estimates between 20 and 25 percent of the national blueberry crop won't be picked this year because of the labour shortage.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

In the Bay of Plenty it's hot and sticky - 100 millimetres of rain has fallen in a week and a bit. It will help kiwifruit size up but canopies have gone bananas and need tidying up.  The big unknown is how or whether crops will be picked if covid hits and an entire picking team needs to isolate.  

Prime cattle are moving very slowly to the works in King Country. Farmers are waiting with bated breath for follow up rain after this week's 60 to 80 millimetres. The hills now have tinges of green  and vehicles are moving around farms without creating clouds of dust.   

Despite heavy rain causing damage in coastal Taranaki with bridges out and fences down, most of the province welcomed it.  Coastal areas had 400 millimetres and few places had less than 100.  Away from the coast there are no puddles - it all soaked in.  More rain is forecast for the weekend - and while follow up rain is always good - farmer are asking for only a moderate amount please....Milk production is 5 to 6 percent behind for the season...compared to last year.

Across the island and heavy rain has brought a few road closures at the top of East Cape. Most farmers were happy with the moisture though. It'll give them a buffer of feed so if Covid leads to staff shortages at the meat works and the inability to send stock in - farmers will be able to keep them fed.  Envy apples are being tested for maturity before they're harvested.  Once they get the ok there's a two week window for picking  - so everyone's hoping it wont be hampered by an Omicron outbreak.

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Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Rain in Hawkes Bay has been annoying for grape growers.  It's come at the wrong time of year but they were expecting a wet spell and have been preparing for it . With harvest only two weeks away for pinot gris and chardonnay, they've been applying biological sprays to keep the fruit in good condition and ward off rot. It's too close to picking to use synthetic chemical sprays.  The days have been hot - up to 32 degrees.  Vineyard owners want the rain to stop and pastoral farmers want it to continue.

It rained non stop in Wairarapa on Saturday and Sunday and daytime temperatures plummeted to 14 degrees. Since then it's warmed up and now worms and facial eczema will  go hand in hand with lovely growth.

Widespread rain across Rangitikei and Manawatu put between 100 and 130 millimetres in most people's gauges. Stock are doing well and fears about dwindling feed levels have been allayed.  The major concern is farmers are unable to get sheep and cattle into the works as quickly as they would like. Staff shortages or re-jigging of staffing is being blamed.

Heading across Cook Strait… water restrictions are off and rivers are high in the Nelson / Motueka region. An orchard owner near Richmond says he was picking Packham Triumph and Taylors Gold export pears when the rain came on Wednesday. He's hoping to get back on the ladder this weekend if the weather clears up. After the pears, the next cab off the rank is the early variety Sansa apple. It's a cross between a Gala and a Fuji. He's says the fruit hasn't got a long storage life but is deliciously sweet.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

A Marlborough grape grower says he didn't really want rain this week either. His sauvignon blanc grapes are moving into the tender veraison stage and the risk of vines attracting powdery mildew and, in particular, botrytis, has gone right up. He says no more of the wet stuff until after harvesting please! On farms, most lambs have been offloaded and rams are being put out with ewes, so the cycle has started again.

There are reports of extensive damage to farms in the northern parts of the West Coast and cattle being swept away, but since retrieved. It's a different story in South Westland. Over the past few days 91 millimetres landed on a daiy farm at Whataroa - and it all got soaked up as did last week's 600 millimetres. Rainfall for January was a meagre 49 millimetres, so soil moisture levels are finally back to where they should be. In the dairy shed, milk production's down on last season due to a wet spring and the dry summer. Next week, the herd will go from a 10 in 7 milking regime to once-a-day, this will help the cows put condition on as they trudge towards autumn.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

In Canterbury - well it keeps raining and raining and raining, and while it's good for dryland and pastoral based farmers it is turning into a nightmare for arable farmers who are struggling to get crops in. Crops that have been harvested so far have been below average in terms of yield. Even baling the straw residue is difficult due to the rain, if this weather pattern continues straw could be in short supply.  On a positive note grass growth has been great and many farms have not seen feed levels like this at this time of year for a long long time.

Rain's thrown a spanner in the works for a Cromwell fruit grower in Central Otago. He was hoping to get the last of the Nevis apricots picked and packed but that'll move into next week now, weather permitting. The Clutha Sun and Clutha Gold apricots are done and dusted though, as are greengages and plums. In vineyards, staff have been trimming off excess foliage.  Bunches of young pinot noir grapes hanging underneath are beginning to soften and colour. A Maniototo farmer says tukka is growing on the hills, lots of silage is being made and the barley growing on his station is looking a picture.

A  Southland dairy farmer at Edendale says over the last eight days, only 13 millimetres of rain has fallen so he'd welcome some more.  Cows are getting supplementary fed 2 kilograms of silage a day on one of the farms he runs and 3 kilograms of palm kernel on the other.  Normally he wouldn't even start supplementary feeding until early April.

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Photo: supplied