Monday, February 26, 2024

So far, summer’s a breeze 

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Farmers up and down the islands are enjoying one of the best seasons in a while – but still keeping an eye out for dry.
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By Neal Wallace and Gerald Piddock

The nation’s farmers are generally enjoying a favourable summer so far, described by some as the best in two years, although some districts are experiencing seasonal dryness.

In the South Island, parts of Nelson, Canterbury, Otago and Southland are getting dry.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Myfanwy Alexander said more than 20mm of rain and the lack of wind since Christmas have reversed what was looming as a seriously dry period with irrigation struggling to keep pace.

“It could change again so we are taking precautions and expecting it could get dry again.”

The federation’s Otago president, Luke Kane, said parts of the province are starting to dry after an exceptional period of growth up to Christmas.

Karl Dean, the federation’s North Canterbury president, said the region has had more rain than expected.

Areas such as the Banks Peninsula, which has traditionally dried off by now, are still green.

The absence of northwest winds has delayed the onset of extreme dry summer conditions in Mid and South Canterbury, where the foothills have enjoyed regular rain while heat on the plains is helping arable crops mature but drying coastal areas.

This summer on the West Coast has been exceptional, the federation’s local president, Bede O’Connor, said, with an ideal balance of rain, heat and sunshine.

“It’s been an amazing Christmas period. There’s been lots of growth and plenty of baleage being made.”

Parts of Southland were starting to dry prior to Christmas but recent rain has eased that pressure, according to the local president of Federated Farmers, Chris Dillon.

It has caused a delay to harvesting winter supplements, which Dillon fears could have long-term repercussions. 

On the east coast in Gisborne, Toby Williams is also pretty happy with how the summer has gone so far.

The Federated Farmers meat and wool chair said everyone is happy with feed levels and ground conditions, and this takes the pressure off poor market prices.

“We haven’t had feed levels like this and stock doing as well as they are for at least two years. It’s nice, it’s dried out enough that we can go and do some work and it’s really good.”

It is also great for morale after a tough 12 months for the region, he said.

“We have had a hot dry summer so far and everyone’s really enjoyed it. It’s one of those things you look forward to after such a miserable one last year.”

Feed, fruit and vegetable crops are also growing well despite many being planted late due to it being so wet through October-November.

Farmers in the top half of the North Island are upbeat thanks to periodic rain that, along with warm temperatures, has kept pasture covers high and summer feed crops taking off.

Northland Federated Farmers president Colin Hannah said there is plenty of feed around for livestock and if it does turn dry, any drought is still at least 30 days away.

Farmers had also taken heed of possible drought warnings prior to Christmas and have gone into summer not heavily stocked.

This, along with high feed availability, means farmers have plenty of options if it does suddenly turn dry.

“Everything’s looking pretty good,” he said.

“Maize crops were looking amazing. As long as farmers keep an eye out for fall army worm, they’ll have an exceptional crop this year.”

Further south, in Waikato, periodic rain and warm temperatures have kept pasture covers high with some farmers having cut their second crops of hay or silage.

The region’s Federated Farmers dairy chair, Matthew Zonderop, said there was good rain over Christmas and the New Year period and there is an abundance of feed available.

That, along with the recent upward trend in milk prices, is giving farmers plenty of cause for optimism. 

“Everything has shaped up in the New Year-start of January really well.”

Maize and other summer feed crops are also looking healthy thanks to the spike in temperatures that followed the rain.

“With the combo of the rain and the heat, it’s really kicked in and a lot of the maize has really taken off,” he said.

Crop such as turnips and chicory are growing really well, too.

“You couldn’t ask for a better start to January.”

The possibility of a late summer or autumn drought is still in the back of people’s minds, with many still being cautious in their decision making, he said.

“There’s still a long way to go before we get to autumn and … as we have found out in previous years, autumn can still be very dry.”

Zonderop is also concerned that the grass growth, rain and humid weather could see facial eczema spore counts climb.

“It would pay for everyone to be more vigilant than they were last year.”

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