Thursday, August 11, 2022

Feed shortage a concern for dry south

Neal Wallace
Dry conditions continue to grip farms in Southland and Otago, worsening already stretched feed supplies compounded by delays in getting stock processed.

Careful management of an aquifer by scheme water users has been a lifesaver for Southland irrigator Jason Herrick. The Mossburn dairy farmer has been able to continue to grow pasture during one of the driest periods in living memory in Southland, but the Federated Farmers dairy section head fears it could be a long winter if it is wet and cold.

Dry conditions continue to grip farms in Southland and Otago, worsening already stretched feed supplies compounded by delays in getting stock processed.

Between 8mm and 30mm of rain fell over Southland and southern Otago this week, but temperatures have also fallen.

Weather forecasters are offering little prospect of significant regular rainfall for the remainder of April, although there another southerly next week could deliver a further 20-40mm.

“It’s still below average but much better than we have had in the last few months,” WeatherWatch chief forecaster Philip Duncan said.

Southland Federated Farmers president Chris Dillon says last week’s rain was a start, but more is needed.

“It has changed the colour of the soil and soaked in nicely, but we need follow up,” Dillon said.

“It’s a start without making the problem of the feed shortage go away.”

Farmers are dipping into feed reserves, sending stock to slaughter or grazing, a one-off drought sale of cattle was held at Lorneville last week and rural support groups have been activated.

Meatworks are having to reduce capacity on a daily basis as they deal with staff shortages due to covid.

Depending on factors such as cartage, commission and delivery, feed wheat is selling in Canterbury for more than $500/tonne, at least $50/tonne higher than last year.

Baleage is being trucked south from Canterbury at more than $100/bale plus freight, about $20/bale higher than last year and palm kernel has now reached $510/t, up from $320/t a year ago.

Killian O’Reilly’s phone has hardly stopped ringing, peaking at 76 calls in seven hours one day, as Southland farmers sought to buy supplementary feed.

O’Reilly works for D Thompson Contracting and said he is linking buyers to feed sellers in Canterbury.

D Thompson Contracting director Daryl Thompson describes the feed shortage in Southland as serious, compounded by delays in quitting stock

The onset of autumn means time is running out for rain to provoke the usually reliable Southland autumn flush, he said.

Winter crops are, in general, well-established due to regular rain during and after sowing.

Chris Hughes, another Southland contractor, said his baleage harvest was 30% less this season, which is typical of southern harvests.

He is sourcing supplementary feed out of Central Otago for up to $150/bale, which a year ago cost less than $100.

He said in general contractors and farmers are helping each other to try and lessen the feed pinch, which could be an issue should the south have a slow or cold spring.

“If we have winter when we are meant to get winter, we should get through with our winter crops but if we get a wet spring, it will be tight,” Hughes said.

He said anyone seeking supplementary feed should start looking now.

United Wheat Growers of NZ chair Brian Leadley agrees, saying this year’s grain harvest has been poor through much of Canterbury.

While that means poor-quality milling wheat is available for stock, overall yields are lower and demand is greater than last year.

Prices are also higher than last year due to higher production costs and are likely to increase further.

“There is feed wheat available but I would say to farmers looking for it they should be proactive, because supplies are likely to run out later in the year,” Leadley said.

Duncan said forecasts for the coming month indicate the south is likely to be drier and autumn temperatures warmer than usual.

Looking further into winter, he said the La Niña is neutralising but sea temperatures are expected to stay elevated, which will underpin above-average temperatures for the coming few months.

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