6 May 2022

On the Farm - a wrap of farming conditions around NZ

From On the Farm, 9:10 pm on 6 May 2022
View over the Tukituki River

View over the Tukituki River Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

In Hawke's Bay a lamb finisher currently has 27,000 lambs on his farm, about 5000 more than last year, because there's so much feed.

An auction was raging in the background when we rang Northland on Friday. In-milk autumn cows were under the hammer and selling very well - averaging two thousand two hundred dollars. The region had a lot of showery weather earlier in the week. It's greening up nicely and there's a good amount of feed.

The Pukekohe district has had cool overnight temperatures and light winds.  It's also been another week without rain, with little in the forecast. Conditions are excellent for working outside but growers are spending a lot of time and money irrigating vegetables to keep them growing. Old tractors are being used to transport irrigation equipment around the countryside and there are long waiting lists for fancy new ones.

A farmer on the Hauraki Plains has spent the week trying to find feed for his cows. His farm has had just 58 milimetres of rain since Christmas - when he would typically expect 250.  Last week baleage was delivered for $115 a bale - if he ordered it today it would cost between $150 and $170.  He says efforts are underway to try to get the Minister of Agriculture to declare a drought.

In three weeks' time, on 1 June, people will be changing farms for the new dairy season - they're required to leave a certain amount of grass cover on the farm but, failing that,  leave supplementary feed that would make up for any deficit. It could be an expensive time for departing farmers and they'll be hoping that when they arrive at their new farm, the required amount of feed is waiting for them there!  

Blue Springs, near Tirau

Blue Springs, near Tirau Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

It's full steam ahead for the kiwifruit season - gold fruit is coming smoothly into Bay of Plenty packhouses. There's a lot of larger fruit this year,  some of it is already soft, and volumes are slightly down on estimates.  As for avocados, some late local market fruit is coming off the trees - and prices have lifted a tad.  It's been the season everyone wants to forget - prices have been rubbish, logistics have been a nightmare and the harvest was challenging. A number of growers will have made a loss, some will have broken even and none will have made a fortune.  Next year should be better - fruit size looks a little bigger and Australia has a much reduced crop - which should leave room for more New Zealand avocados in the market.

Great autumn

Hawke's Bay is still enjoying one of its best autumns in a long time - if you are a pastoral farmer.  Lambs have been doing very well - the lamb finisher we called has 27,000 lambs on board at the moment - about 5000 more than last year because there's so much feed. He also has 1300 cattle.  He says on neighbouring vineyards the leaves are all off and pruning has just started.

Gisborne woke to a stunning day on Friday.  Our contact says you couldn't ask for better. He was on his farm bike and mustering cows when we called. Farms are slowly drying out as much as they can coming into winter. It's warm so grass is growing. The sunshine will lift spirits even if you have to go out and repair damage.   

Wairarapa farmers have a spring in their step because they're not having to worry about how they'll feed their animals. They've also been able to get on with lots of maintenance in the fine weather - things like gorse spraying and banging in new fence posts. Digger and bulldozer drivers will have been busy. Most people would like a shower of rain - at a discussion group this week there was talk about whether those who have put their irrigation equipment to bed for winter should get it out and crank it up again.  

Early morning mist hanging over the South Wairarapa valley

Early morning mist hanging over the South Wairarapa valley Photo: Mike Laven

Manawatū and Rangitikei are looking good - although there hasn't been rain for a while.  Ag consultants are brain-storming with their clients about options if rain doesn't arrive - things like getting rid of all of their trading stock, and possibly older ewes and cows, to reduce the number of mouths on farm.  Applying nitrogen isn't really a possibility until there's moisture and, with prices for it shooting up, farmers are looking at the next cheapest option.

It's still unseasonably warm in Horowhenua - and farmers are hoping that any rain comes now, rather than when it turns cold.  As it stands they'll be going into winter with low feed reserves. Vege growers are still using their irrigators - which is crazy for this time of year.

Drying off

The kind autumn is continuing for Tasman region farmers.  Grass is still growing, cows are still getting milked and there's a good amount of feed on farms coming into winter.  Dairy farmers will be starting to wind down to drying off in a couple or three weeks.

Our Marlborough grape grower was busy fencing on Friday morning ready for lambs to come onto the property. Vines are shutting down, and pruning is starting as leaves are falling off.  He has bought a property with heavily impacted soils, so is injecting lime just over half a metre into the sub soil, he'll then plant cover crops which will be mulched in spring. He says this will help air flow into the heavy soil, and build up organic matter between the grape vines. A number of vineyard owners grow oats and barley for this sort of thing, but he's planting chicory, plantain, clover, peas and beans  ... in all it's an eight seed mix for biodiversity and his bees.  Workers will,  in the next few weeks, be transitioning from working in the wineries to back out pruning.  

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

On the West Coast Friday was a beautiful fine day. Rain's expected in the weekend and some want it.  It's been balmy and spring-like. Grass growth is amazing, in fact our farmer said he has never seen it like this in autumn. Apple trees are blooming, there have been no frosts, and it's like a false spring.  He's in shorts and a t shirt - which is unheard of  for May in south Westland.  Someone was even making silage, another unheard of event for the time of year.  You'd be hard pressed to find a complaining farmer here.

Frost-free Friday

Central Otago woke up to no frost on Friday morning ... that's a first for about four weeks.  Twizel has supposedly had the lowest temperatures in recent times, with minus 1.8, but Oturehua has beaten that with minus threes and fours.  Winter feed crops could do with a shower of rain, even though some fell 10 days ago more is needed. Stock are still being held up getting into the meat works.  The ram is going out on sheep farms and TB testing of cattle is underway.  People were looking forward to duck shooting starting, but our farmer said people need to remember they're not to leave firearms in the car and go to the pub.  Go home first and lock them away ... it's a new rule.  

Growing conditions in Southland have been pretty much perfect for the past three weeks.  Thank goodness ... the drought hit region's still not out of the woods, but the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter. Without frosts soil temperatures are letting grass pump along.  Those who've applied urea fertiliser are seeing a real benefit.  As in Central, there are still too many mouths eating into winter feed waiting for the works backlog to clear, but it is slowly easing  

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes