15 Apr 2022

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:07 pm on 15 April 2022

The East Coast suffered more slips and road damage from former Cyclone Fili, but nearly all other regions of New Zealand would rather welcome some rain - just not too much. Listen to On the Farm for more on conditions on farms and orchards around the country.

Thursday dawned clear and beautiful in Northland. The region missed out on the forecast rain which was disappointing. Soil moisture levels aren't where they were this time last season and that's a concern in terms of building pasture covers for calving. Some farmers will have to take aggressive action and will graze cows off the milking platform or will start drying cows off earlier than they would have liked.  Dry cows need less feed than milking cows however the dairy consultant we spoke to says farmers seem to have turned a corner. Often between drying off in May and calving in July cows are on slim rations but he says farmers have realised that a well fed dry cow does much better the next season than a skinny one. He says it makes good financial sense to feed cows well and, with the payout so good, farmers can afford to.

Pukekohe was by-passed by cyclone Fili - just  6.5 millimetres of rain fell on Wednesday morning. Growers who are harvesting potatoes are still coping with a lot of rejects due to tuber moth damage. They access the spuds by the cracks in dry ground

Waikato had high hopes for rain too but some places only received 2mm to 3mm. The Hauraki plains are particularly dry and one farmer there has dried off his entire herd already a month earlier than desirable. A lot of supplements are still being fed. Across Waikato milk production for the season will be three to five percent down on last year.  Because of the lack of killing space at meat works some sheep and beef farmers still have stock on farm that should have gone two months ago. They're desperate to wave them goodbye. The store stock market is very firm. There are buyers from the East Coast - all that rain is producing plenty of grass.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Bay of Plenty kiwifruit growers say they dodged a bullet. They'd been told Cyclone Fili's remnants would deliver  high winds and lots of rain which is the last thing you need when you're in the middle of the harvest. Eight millimetres fell near Te Puke and the wind didn't amount to much. Early start green kiwifruit is being picked and packed and that's pushed pause on the gold harvest. It is 30 percent through. The remaining 70 percent needs to be picked in the next four weeks so an order has gone out for fine weather. Our contact says with supply chain costs going up and Shanghai shut down, he doesn't think prices will be stunning. He says the rate of Covid-related absences is declining in packhouses.  On his dairy farm 550 of his 720 cows are still being milked as the season starts to wind down.

Poor sodden Tairāwhiti ... especially inland between Gisborne and Wairoa which has suffered a soaking again. Two hundred millimetres were recorded in parts of the region in the five hours to midnight on top of downpours earlier in the day. The biggest frustration for farmers now is getting machinery in to clear the slips. Anyone with a digger has years of work in front of them, one farmer told us. He knows farmers resorting to good old horseback. It's going to be a long winter for some. Where the land has not been too damaged there has been amazing grass growth so that offsets the weather woes for some. There will be some destocking as farmers wait for the land to heal and they can resow.

Fonterra's Whareroa plant behind a symbolic dairy cow near Hawera

Fonterra's Whareroa plant behind a symbolic dairy cow near Hawera Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Taranaki continues to be dry, warm and sunny. There are moderate levels of pasture on farms. The province needs rain. One dairy farmer says she hopes people don't milk on too long in order to maximize returns given the high payout ... it's better not to stress the cows.  She's drying off her lower producing animals.

Rain in Hawke's Bay didn't cause too much damage this week - although there have been some impressive posts on social media showing  creeks raging following 60mm of rain in three hours. There's more talk about not being able to get stock into the works than chat about the weather. People who have been loyal to a particular processor are getting priority over people who haven't and they are grateful for it. Some people who are farming regeneratively are fetching a premium for their animals - meat marketers are wanting to differentiate product in the market. On farm, ewes are in good order - some rams have already done their job but most are still out with the girls.

And it's the same in Rangitīkei-Manawatū ... the boys are still out with the girls on sheep farms. The region didn't pick up any rain from Cyclone Fili as many thought it would. Fifteen millimetres would be nice now to tickle along new pastures. Up to 15 percent more milk's going into the vat this year for two reasons - there have been hold ups at the works so cull cows are still on farm, but also there is feed for them so it makes sense to get a bit more milk. There's a strong store market with all the grass around so prices are good for those selling.  

Newly sown winter crops in Autumn

Newly sown winter crops in Autumn Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Pasture is still going berserk in Wairarapa which had some sprinkles of rain this week. Our contact says it has been a good season to rebuild after a hard couple of years reflected in high empty rates for beef cows. It's still relatively warm and there's been no snow yet on the Tararua ranges which is quite unusual getting into mid April.

It's been a fine week in Nelson with no rain to speak of and some would be welcome. The heavy dews are keeping things looking green but there's no growth. Farmers generally have good levels of supplementary feed. The beautiful conditions of course are great for the last stages of apple picking.

Marlborough definitely needs moisture, but it's starting to get quite cool so even if it arrives now there won't be much growth coming from it. Our contact had re sown new pasture in March and it's struggling. He says February rain is well gone and it's turned into an Indian summer. Unlike southern counterparts there hasn't been too much trouble getting the last of the lambs into the meat works.  

Harvesting in autumn dusk Canterbury

Harvesting in autumn dusk Canterbury Photo: Tim Cookson

Finally on Monday this week our contact in Canterbury says they concluded the arable harvest for 2022 - probably one of the best days of the season in fact, with warm temperatures and a good northwesterly wind. He said If only the weather was like that in February. Autumn sowing will be concluded over Easter then its time for a couple of days off. He also said if people think food is expensive now,  expect more pain to come as the true cost of fertilizer, fuel, wages etc flows through.  

Autumn has turned up on the West Coast after a prolonged dry spell.  New pastures are coming up and farmers are milking on as the cows aren't making too much of a dent in pasture supplies at the tail end of the season. The last of the fertiliser is going on. Some farmers are grumpy ... very grumpy as it's taken so long to allow more meat workers into the country and they say it's too late to help with those needing to offload cull cows by May. Apparently some are making their way up to Wellington by truck now which is helping.  

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Photo: Michael Godfrey

South Otago has only had 6mm of rain this week. It missed out on the precipitation falling further south and farms are extremely dry ... they're grey and bare. Thankfully a few more stock are flowing through meat works now, our farmer contact said. He has plenty of winter feed on hand and is using some of that to keep animals well fed, but he says there was a frost on Thursday morning which will stunt all growth, so the region really needs a mild winter or it will look ugly in South Otago. Young sheep are being sent to mid Canterbury for grazing.

Southland farmers can turn their irrigators on again - after two weeks without them. The region's drought meant rivers and aquifers were very low so the Southland Regional Council issued a water shortage direction late last month which meant many irrigators had to be turned off, but it's all go again now.