25 Mar 2022

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:07 pm on 25 March 2022
Floods engulf farmland along East Cape

Floods engulf farmland along East Cape Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Stock are pushing a mouthful of feed into the ground every step they take on the East Coast after the region was inundated this week and in dry South Otago, some sheep farmers are having to tup ewes on supplementary feed while dairy farmers are thinking of drying off early. Listen to On the Farm for more on conditions on farms and orchards around the country.

In Northland plenty of rain this last week is taking the pressure off in the normally lean autumn period. Weaner fairs are pretty much done and dusted with prices to expectations - heifers averaging $3 to $3.15 a kilo and steers averaging $3.40 to $3.50. Dairy cows have been trading well with the higher payouts and because of a slight shortage in supply.

Around Pukekohe, at least 60-odd millimetres of much needed rain arrived on Monday morning. In some parts of the district  the soils went from desert to swamp. Another 10mm by the end of the week means the ground has remained near field capacity and has restricted general cultivation. However our contact tells us there are no complaints.

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Photo: Susan Murray/RNZ

Rain in Waikato has been big news because it was getting incredibly dry. Most of the region had a good drop - about 50 to 70mm - so grass is starting to grow. A lot of supplements are being fed. Milk production is dropping away. Most dairy farmers are ending the season down four to five percent on last year. The sheep and beef guys have been selling stock because of the struggle for feed. The demand for store stock is very good. On farm costs are soaring.

Rain also fell this week in Taranaki and it was very much needed as here too pasture growth rates had really slowed. One hundred millimetres spread over three or four days and nice warm temperatures will have kicked things along a bit. Production is down about 6 percent on last year.

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Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Bay of Plenty has had 200mm in the last five days. They did need the rain but it's just a jolly nuisance as kiwifruit picking days are lost in the wet. There are 190 million trays of kiwifruit to get in so they need to get on with it - 85  percent of the kiwifruit industry is in the Bay. Omicron means a high rate of absenteeism at the moment - some packing lines are down by up to 50 percent but on average the lines have about 20 percent fewer workers. The industry is seriously short of people even without Covid.

A Wairoa farmer says horseback will be the only way of getting around the farm for months to come. All his tracks into the hill country are blocked by slips and roads are full of logs swept down in this week's heavy rain. He says 150mm fell in 24 hours and there is still another ten days of rain forecast. The land is so wet it's turning to liquid and starting to flow. It's like walking in a swamp and the stock are pushing a mouthful of feed into the ground every step they take so although there's a lot feed around, it's being damaged. Maize crops are underwater so he predicts a grain shortage this year. Hundreds of farmers inland, isolated at the best of times, are cut off.

Paddocks of maize inundated by the Wairoa River

Paddocks of maize inundated by the Wairoa River Photo: Supplied

Manawatū has had rain too. A sheep and beef farmer in the Rangitikei district has had 60mm in the past two days. The biggest challenge in his patch at the moment is meat processors running at reduced capacity because of Covid. Some have had to close for a day or two creating a bit of a backlog getting stock off farm. Consultations for proposals put forward by He Waka Eke Noa to address agricultural emissions are winding up and our contact says many farmers are not very enthused by the ideas.

Some Wairarapa farmers are reporting increased incidence of fly strike in the wet and warm weather. There has been plenty of rain and even a thunderstorm this week. A dairy farmer says not having to operate his pivot irrigators means a much lower power bill this month and that's making up for the soaring cost of fertiliser. A vineyard owner unable to get pickers this harvest is thrilled with support from the local community to help her get her grapes in during last weekend's fine weather. Some fruit may just have to be left for the birds though in the damp conditions.

Pinot Noir grapes at harvest

Pinot Noir grapes at harvest Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Across Cook Strait to the Nelson/Motueka region. A hop grower in Tapawera says harvesting finished on Tuesday with generally excellent results. Yields for some varieties were lower than last year, though, due to a lack of sunshine hours in February. The quality held right through the harvest period thanks to a good team effort and efficient processing. The grower says an old variety's already been removed and a cover crop will go in soon to protect the soils for new plantings next spring.

Farming in remote parts of the Pelorus Sounds in Marlborough has become more difficult. Last July's heavy rain caused extensive damage to the access road that's still undergoing repairs. No trucks are allowed to use the road, making barging necessary for transporting livestock and fertiliser. However, the late summer rains were an incredible boost to morale as grass growth has kept sheep and cattle in a surplus feed situation. A local mussel farmer says shell growth isn't up to expectations. His fully mature Greenshell mussels will be ready to harvest in spring and early summer, by which time he's hoping the Asian market has settled into more positive territory after the Covid downturn.

Our contact at Barrytown on the West Coast says it's been a warm week and a bit of rain is keeping grass ticking along. He's still waiting to send the cull cows off to the works but reckons it might be weeks before there's any space available. In the meantime the cows are eating into the winter baleage reserves.The last of the autumn fertiliser's gone on and maize is being harvested in the district.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

It's been another damp overcast week in Canterbury. Grass growth is good. Sowing of crops for next year's harvest is difficult with ground conditions being a bit wet particularly on heavier soils. Wheat contracts have come out and they are considerably higher than last year. The trouble is input costs have also increased significantly. In some cases fertiliser has doubled in price. Milk production continues to track behind last year despite plenty of feed.

South Otago is extremely dry. A dairy farmer on the Balclutha River flats says a good dose of rain is needed soon. Winter crops could do with a drink too. On the hills the situation is more dire. Grass has browned off and is crunchy underfoot. Some sheep farmers are having to tup ewes on supplementary feed while dairy farmers in the area are thinking of drying off early to ease the feed pressure.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

It's the same for Southland. The last decent rain up the Blackmount Valley was more than two weeks ago. A farmer there says he's moving as much stock off the farm as he can. This week 400 lambs and a load of 16-month-old bulls went to the works while the store lambs have been going up to Canterbury for fattening. Prices for supplementary feed have shot up because of increased demand with some people buying baleage for well over $100 a bale - and there's not much of it around either.