Friday, April 12, 2024

One bite at a time to get through winter

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Seminar shares advice about the crucial decisions ahead for drought-hit farmers.
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When will it rain is the big question for farmers who turned out in their droves to a field day focused on managing their farming operations through the winter months.

Organised by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (BLNZ), hosted by Braided Waters Farming in the Rakaia Gorge and led by Mark Everest of McFarlane Rural Business, the field day provided more than 50 farmers with key information aimed at supporting the crucial decisions they will have to make.

On the agenda was everything from feed budgeting to financial scenarios.

Opening the seminar, BLNZ chair and northern South Island farmer director Kate Acland acknowledged the “incredibly challenging summer”.

“It’s been the perfect storm with the weather and the market conditions.

“We are here to focus on tools we can give farmers to succeed now and into the future,” Acland said. 

Braided Waters Farming manager Angus Lang said the past few months have been a “very stressful time” in which, together with farm owners David and Miller Harper, he had to make some critical decisions around livestock numbers and what comes next going through winter as he prepares himself, the team and the 7000 hectare farming operation to come out the other side of the dry.

Braided Waters Farming manager Angus Lang, left, says the past few months have been a ‘very stressful time’ on farm.

“It was dry here early January, the pasture covers were looking good, we had hay shut up, we went away on holiday, came back and it was not looking so good, as quick as that.

“We need to be growing 50kg a day but we were only doing 20kg.

“By early February it was, I can’t see a way out of this.”         

With dairy grazing the main part of business, owners were notified and the call was made at the end of February to get stock off farm, dropping from 8600 stock units to 4000. 

Braided Waters carries about 1150 cattle, 1200 ewes, 130 heifers either bred or bought in and a few beef cows. It finishes 600 deer and 4000 lambs.

“I have been farming in the gorge here for over 20 years and this is the first time we have had to de-stock.

“When it hits us, it hits us hard and it costs us. 

“It was a big cash flow loss to lose all these animals and two months’ income, but the key was letting our dairy farmers know early,” David Harper said.

“Two weeks ago we were only growing 5kg, this week we are at 17kg, in balance but not gaining anything and we are bloody lucky the winter feed crops are looking okay.

“We are in recovery phase now to get though winter and come spring we will work out how we make some money,” Lang said.

Harper said the pressure was on to make the right decision.

“There was stress on everybody in the chain but once we made the call, made a plan we all got on with it,” Harper said.

Making the plan is key, Everest told farmers.

“When you are 900m down a 1km runway you are pretty much in the poo.

“If we get no rain by April 5 we are in trouble  

He urged farmers to make a plan early and continually review it.

“Action it now, one bite at a time, to get into and through winter and out the other side.

“It’s about evaluation of options and opportunities. Be honest, understand where you are at now and where you are going to be in four to six weeks to make proactive decisions.

“What drives cash; define the business drivers, consider the animal needs and feed stability; when, where and what can influence the plan, then rigorous plan implementation with whole team buy-in.”

Everest said the banks are willing to support but they need a line of sight.

“Get finance sorted, get the management team together, the accountant, family and other stakeholders and give the bank an early heads-up. Communication, both internal and external, is key.”

Re-stocking is a long way down the track.

“There’s four to six months of problem to get through then revitalising feed is the first priority and recovery is to optimise what we are going to sell next year.

“We have been here before; we will be here again. You have adaptive brains, but you need to give the head a chance to clear.

“Take time to be social, to clear the brain to think clearer to make critical decisions.”    

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