22 Apr 2022

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:15 pm on 22 April 2022

Gisborne vegetable growers are sick of being blamed for food price hikes and grass growth in mid and south Canterbury is exceptional for this time of year. Check out what's happening on farms and orchards around the country.

Northland has had plenty of rain in the past week, especially the east coast which got far too much. There was surface flooding around Whangārei and Hikurangi over Easter weekend, 200 - 300 millimetres fell. Bay of Islands received 150mm. In contrast the west coast had a perfect amount of rain, and with temperatures still up around 22 to 25 degrees grass will keep growing. The last of the season's weaner fairs were held this week and they continued to get good prices.  

By Friday morning, an incoming front looked likely to add to the 7.5mm of early week rainfall in Franklin.  Up until then, the mainly cloudy mild days had been free of predicted heavy showers. Although soil moisture levels have been slightly damp, the conditions have still permitted most forms of cultivation dust free. Crops are growing well and various insects may remain problematic until colder weather arrives.  

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Photo: Susan Murray/RNZ

It was similar in Waikato, predicted rain never quite arrived for most and in eastern Waikato dairy farms are extremely dry. Drizzly rain arrived Friday morning but it won't do much. A Waikato kiwifruit orchard manager however has been pleased with the warm dry days and harvesting on properties he runs has gone very smoothly. They've all picked about half their crop to take advantage of higher prices for early season fruit.  He says it's always a relief to get some of it picked and packed early. The rest will stay on the vines for another month or so.

Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchardists are having really hard times. Labour is a continuing struggle with some picking gangs finishing on the orchard and then going in to help in packhouses. Long long days. And the weather has been awful trying to pick kiwifruit in between heavy rain is extremely trying. One grower started harvesting last Saturday, the rain started on Sunday and they still hadn't got back to the block by Friday because of the wet. Some green growers are finding their crops are down a bit this year because flowering had been patchy.

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Photo: Susan Murray/RNZ

Taranaki had a good 50 or so millimetres of rain on Thursday night so the province is continuing to look pretty good across the board. Grass is still growing. There hasn't even been any snow on Mt Taranaki yet.

The Gisborne vegetable grower we spoke to was extremely frustrated and sick of being in the news. Richard Burke from LeaderBrand said there's lots in the media at present about the high price of fresh vegetables and they're feeling even more picked on than dairy farmers - they've been punched in the nose. He really was het up. He says it's totally wrong to blame growers for pushing prices up and making consumers buy less healthy food options. He says there are two, interlinked, reasons why prices have increased - one is because the cost of inputs like fuel, labour and fertiliser have gone up, and the other is because returns are dictated by supply, growers are becoming more risk averse so they're planting less which means they're more likely to have a market for all the crop. Then supply doesn't always meet demand and prices go up. He says in the past they'd grow heaps, knowing some may get wasted. But now with very high growing costs they can't afford to do that. On the weather front he said it's hard to get consistent supplies with salad lines because of the changeable weather. Tairawhiti is still so wet it only takes a tiny bit of rain for paddocks to become sodden and hard to get onto. On top of that Covid-19 is still hitting in the odd work place making harvesting, packing and trucking tricky.  

Pasture is still growing in Hawke's Bay. It's been a fantastic autumn although there is quite a bit of facial eczema around. Many farmers have had problems getting zinc bullets to counteract the condition because of issues with the supply chain. Dairy cows are being dried off and in our contact's district they'll all be dry by the first week of May. There's a three to four week wait for space at the works for cull and fat cows. Farmers are concerned about the Covid lockdown in Shanghai and its effect on lamb and mutton prices. On farm costs - sprays, fertiliser and seed - are going through the roof.

Facial eczema

In southern Manawatū it has been warm but the lack of moisture is limiting growth. There is a bit of facial eczema around so some dairy farmers have started drying off their cows. As elsewhere, it's been difficult to get cull cows off to the works but our contact says the local meatworks has done an exceptional job ... spreading it around and making sure everybody has been able to get at least some of their cows away. She's catching up with fencing and firewood and keeping weeds at bay.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

It's also been warm in Wairarapa where a sheep and beef farmer has put up temporary wires to limit pasture for his ewes. There is so much feed around and it is not good for them to get too fat prior to lambing because of the risk of bearings - that's a prolapsed uterus. Stock are on rotation ... beef cows last in to clean up the paddocks which encourages growth of good quality feed later on. It's reasonably dry but not worryingly so. People with winter feed crops in the ground will be looking for rain, 15 to 20mm would be great.

Te Wai Pounamu

In the Nelson/Motueka region the late varieties pink lady and envy apples are being picked, by the end of the month the apple harvesting season should be done and dusted. In contrast, kiwifruit picking is going full bore with apple pickers moving across to do kiwifruit. Feijoas are being picked and packed too and post-harvest sprays are being applied in stone fruit orchards.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

In Marlborough, rape and ryegrass sown in late-February needed good drink and they got it - after 15mm of rain fell on Thursday, mainly in inland areas though. A farmer near Blenheim says despite being dry, his hill country property still has plenty of cover - it's been unusually warm with temperatures hitting the mid to high twenties this week. Rams in with ewes are getting to the end of the cycle so people are starting to think about pre-lamb shearing. Grape harvesting is completely finished and as soon as the leaves drop pruning will start in earnest. Lambs have been shifted into vineyards to clean up the rows, a lot apparently coming from Southland due to the dry conditions there.

It's been a good week of weather in mid-Canterbury with warm temperatures and good soil moisture. Harvesting is all but done and the last of the autumn crops are going in. Grass growth's above average and our contact at Hororata says "long may it continue". South Canterbury's having quite the opposite season compared with Southland and parts of Otago. They've had almost too much rain. A visiting Waikato consultant says this week he saw what would be considered dry country with oodles of green pasture. He says rolling hills have the equivalent grass to what he'd see in Waikato in spring.

Drying off

A dairy farmer at Ross on the West Coast is planning to dry off his herd in four weeks time. The rain gauge on this farm recorded 120mm this week. It's been the first significant rain in six weeks. In preparation for the off season he's been TB testing cows, splitting up mobs for winter grazing and getting ready for feeding out baleage and silage.

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Photo: Michael Godfrey

Winter's fast approaching in Central Otago. A farmer says he can see a fresh skiff of snow though the clouds on the Hawkdun Range. The region's still quite dry with only about 12mm in the gauge over the past five weeks. Crutching's been happening this week, the rams are going out and most of the lambs have been trucked off to the works.

Southland had 40mm of rain on Thursday. That was on top of about 20mm ten days ago, but there was little growth response to the first rain so this follow-up was really needed. Farmer are hoping for some warm weather now to get grass growing before winter kicks in. On sheep farms the rams about to go out if they're not out already. Ewes are being fed sheep nuts to help lift nutrition levels as there's no quality grass around. Farmers are expecting the drought will have an impact on conception rates. Heaps of feed being trucked in. One farmer says he's paying $155 per bale of baleage - nearly double what it normally costs. Most dairy farmer are moving to once a day or 16 hour milking due to the lack of feed. Lower producing cows are being dried off and sent to the works. Our contact says  farmers across the province are toughing it out - but stress levels are very high due to huge cost increases, a difficulty in finding staff and dealing with the drought.