Dry autumn conditions are spreading throughout the country, with most regions seeking rain and forecasters warning conditions are likely to remain dry in the coming months.
Recent rain and warm weather has boosted feed on parched Southland and Otago farms which are delicately poised heading into winter, while Waikato and South Auckland farmers are being told to plan for a possible drought.
Dry autumn conditions are widespread through both islands, prompting farmers to reconsider winter feed budgets to account for lower than desired pasture cover.
The south of the South Island and Waikato appear hardest hit, missing the usual autumn flush leaving some farmers with low pasture cover, low supplementary reserves and fingers crossed for a mild winter.
WeatherWatch director and forecaster Phil Duncan said temperatures throughout the country to the end of July are likely to be up to 1degC warmer than usual and for much of the country it is likely to be drier than normal.
“It’s looking to be very dry for Southland right up to Wairarapa due to high pressure systems parked over us,” Duncan said.
He said there was a chance in May of rainmakers for the north and long-range data from RuralWeather/IBM suggests more normal rainfall for northern regions may return in winter.
“So yes, Waikato is leaning drier than average for the rest of autumn, but the silver lining is that while most days will be dry, we do have that ‘wild card’ effect with La Niña in play. In other words, many dry days do still have some chance of being balanced by a one-off sub-tropical rain event.”
Southland and southern parts of Otago had up to 120mm of rain in March, followed by above average temperatures, provoking some late autumn pasture growth.
Deane Carson, a consultant with Agri Business Ltd in Invercargill, said the use of nitrogen, steady rain and warm days has enabled some southern farms to grow up to 45kg/DM/ha a day, rates comparable with March.
Carson said a counter to that is the prevalence of grass grub.
Most southern feed budgets are tight going into winter and he is urging farmers to regularly review feed availability and need.
Southland Federated Farmers Meat and Wool section chairm Dean Rabbidge said while farmers are enjoying a “late, late, late flush of grass”, it needs to continue.
“At least we’re growing ahead of demand and we’re not going backwards anymore,” Rabbidge said.
He said winter crop yields appear to be about average, but the biggest challenge will be managing available feed before and after stock goes onto crops.
The backlog of prime stock and cull cows to meat works has eased, while large numbers of store lambs continue to be sent north and feed trucked south.
Some southern dairy farmers have dried-off herds up to six weeks earlier than normal and others have dropped back to once-a-day or milking 10 times in seven days.
Nationally to the year to the end of February, milk production was down 1.7% compared to a year earlier, but for the month of February production was down 8.2%.
“The problem is not now, it’s later on. We have feed, there’s no cows going hungry, but what are we going to do in August-September if it’s a really tough winter.”Andrew Reymer
Waikato rainfall has been low and less regular than normal apart from a few isolated downpours, Waikato Primary Industries Adverse Event Cluster chair and Ohinewai farmer Neil Bateup said.
Waikato Federated Farmers dairy chair Andrew Reymer said farmers were using up supplementary feed reserves they normally would have held until July and August-September.
“If it’s a stunning mild winter, we’ll be fine, but that’s the unknown. It’s ridiculously dry – it’s green but nothing’s growing. Growth rates are absolutely abysmal for this time of the year,” Reymer said.
“It’s getting pretty dire.
“The problem is not now, it’s later on. We have feed, there’s no cows going hungry, but what are we going to do in August-September if it’s a really tough winter.”
Most of the region’s spring calving herds have dried-off and farmers are concentrating on maintaining cow condition as well as they can with calving two months away.