Andrew Fisher is expecting clover yields to be down 40% with heads disappearing into the foliage and sprouting happening. Photo: Annette Scott
Arable farmers are fearing the worst harvest ever, as they desperately look for the sun to shine on their crops.
The remnants of ex Tropical Cyclone Dovi have been the sting in the tail of an unprecedented wet season that has caused widespread damage to arable crops up and down the country,
“We have certainly had a lot of wet weather, topped off by a significant flooding event for some that has been even bigger than the 2004 flood here,” Wairarapa farmer Karen Williams said.
“With 160mm of rain across December, 90mm over Waitangi weekend and then 150mm over the weekend just gone, and that’s just on the plains, not what is coming down the river system, this flooding is a massive event.”
The Ruamahanga, the main river running the length of the Wairarapa, and several of its tributaries have flowed rampant over farmland, decimating harvest crops in their wake.
“There’s really bad damage on properties adjacent to the rivers, the biggest percentage of our harvest is done in February – timing couldn’t have been worse,” she said.
“Floodwaters tearing through crops just decimated them. Peas are stuffed, there’s extensive sprouting of crops across the board impacting on yield, quality and income – it’s not a great year.”
While the Ministry for Primary Industries and Rural Support Trust are in touch, she said the extent of the damage is yet to be realised.
“We’ll see what happens in the next week, when the floodwaters drain and disease and real damage can be determined,” she said.
Federated Farmers arable chair Colin Hurst says talking to farmers who have been around for a while, some are calling it the worst harvest season in living memory.
“Normally we’d be most of the way through harvest by now, but three weeks of continual rain held everything up and now many parts of the country were hammered by the remnants of the cyclone (Dovi),” Hurst said.
Only Southland seems relatively unaffected.
Wheat crops are turning black in Mid and North Canterbury and there’s likely to be a shortage of good quality grain to turn into flour.
Hectares planted in wheat for milling were already down because of changes to buying arrangements and concern about a lack of competition.
Farmer feedback from Canterbury and flooded parts of the Wairarapa are that up to half, and in some cases all, of pea crops have been ruined.
He said reports to Federated Farmers are that crops grown for seed in Canterbury will be down on yield, with many also down in quality.
Many clover crops now resemble hay crops, with the heads disappearing into the foliage and sprouting of these crops happening.
“With the wet growing season yields were down even before harvest started, now it’s gone from bad to worse,” Mid Canterbury cropping farmer Andrew Fisher said.
“It’s been a double hit for all cropping farmers this season, with the lower commodity prices, fertiliser more than doubling in price, the fuel hike, now at harvest the weather, but we are looking ahead to much improved contract pricing.
“Going forward we are looking positive for next season, that’s what we farmers do – look for the next positive.”
Drying space is at a premium and with sodden soil hindering the natural drying of seed crops, harvest is not going to be easy even as weather improves, Hurst said.
In Hawke’s Bay, sweetcorn, beans and squash harvest has been interrupted with beans hit hard with sclerotinia and water logging causing younger bean plants to die.
Maize crops in the Waikato and north Taranaki areas have been “severely knocked around”.
“The challenge now is to dry out what we can and salvage what is left of the harvest,” Hurst said.
Carrfields grain and seed trading manager Rodger Gundry said merchants are cautiously waiting for the result of a challenging harvest, expecting that quantity and quality of crops will be significantly impacted given the unseasonal wet across both the growing and harvest periods.
“We are all guessing what is happening out there,” Gundry said.
“We won’t know the full extent of the impact or what we will be dealing with until farmers get their products in store, then we can put together a game plan.
“What we do know is quantity will be down, but whether quality will be 100% or 10% affected is difficult to determine right now.”