Thursday, December 7, 2023

Farmers urged to prepare for a different kind of summer

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Summer 2023/24 will be running hot and cold, with widely divergent conditions over the North and South Islands.
The worst-hit areas are a coastal belt stretching south of Dunedin to South Otago, though there are pockets elsewhere in the province too.
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Farmers in the North and South Islands need to prepare for widely varying weather patterns as forecasters warn of a different kind of summer.

A webinar held by Dairy Women’s Network, Ballance Agri-nutrients and meteorologists provided farmers and growers with insights into how they can prepare for the intense coming El Niño.

In broad terms, this year’s forecast is for a sharp change to a strong El Niño weather pattern characterised by intense and frequent west and southwesterly winds over the spring and summer months.

Regions on heat watch for extended high temperatures over the next six months include Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay and, to a lesser extent, Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury and eastern Otago.

Those in areas such as Southland, Otago and Westland may be in for a bit of a “bummer summer” with some cooler temperatures and higher than average rainfall over late spring through summer, MetService forecaster Georgina Griffiths said.

Seasonal predictions indicate Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay are looking very dry overall while Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Coromandel can expect modest summer rainfall.

“For farmers and growers, be warned that even with modest near-normal rainfall, soils are expected to dry as the forecast dry winds are likely to strip moisture out of the soil.”

Ballance’s national corporate account manager, Aaron Stafford, said farmers and growers need to understand what these weather conditions will mean on farm.

“The seasons are going to be more pronounced going forward and I really think the key takeaway for those on farm is that this year’s summer is going to be very different to the last couple of seasons, wherever you are.”

It will be vital to harness soil moisture and pasture growth consistency throughout spring as soils are likely to dry out post-Christmas.

“You’ve really got to make the most with what you can in the early season in terms of pasture growth, good soil moisture and temperatures to harness feed availability for the following months.”

Stafford highlighted the importance of nitrogen.

“We’d recommend focusing on nitrogen as a pasture growth promoter to maximise spring growth, leveraging conditions that are favourable for strong N response.

“Don’t leave your available N inputs too late in the season as nitrogen responses will be poor when pastures are moisture and temperature stressed.”

The consequences of wet autumn and winter months in parts of the country have led to a lot of leaching of mobile nutrients, meaning low soil availability of nitrogen and sulphur this spring.

“We’ve been seeing a number of nitrogen-deficient pastures out there over the past few months; overlay this with good soil moisture, good temperatures, the pasture production potential is there but nitrogen will become the key limitation, so make sure you recognise to go early and drive pasture production pre-Christmas.”

Ballance science strategy manager Warwick Catto urged farmers to start thinking about how they can best prioritise their crops with advice to plant as early as possible, particularly for the regions looking to get really dry over the summer months.

“In those regions you have now got a short window of moisture left to get crops in, particularly summer crops that need their roots down deep in the soil to get established and access moisture.”

Catto suggested that yield potential for brassicas will be very high in the deep south and West Coast where there will be levels of summer moisture.

“So make the most of the opportunity to apply nitrogen to the established crop with a split application strategy so the rates of N can be better matched to crop yield potential, depending on how the weather plays out.”

Wrapping up the webinar, Stafford highlighted the importance for farmers and growers of really making the most of their nutrient products.   

“With increasing seasonal weather and pasture production variability, it really reinforces getting back to the basics of the 4 Rs of good fertiliser management – applying at the right time, in the right place, with the right product and at the right rate.”

A text for your thoughts? Text SUMMER and your comment to 0272268553. *Comments may be selected for the Farmers Weekly newspaper’s Letters section.

El Niño Watch: Steve Wyn-Harris challenges El Niño forecasts

In this episode, special guest Steve Wyn Harris, a semi-retired Hawke’s Bay farmer, questions WeatherWatch NZ forecaster Phil Duncan on the El Niño weather system and shares his own experiences of farming through droughts, dating back to the 1982/83 event.

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