Thursday, November 30, 2023

Blanket of mud spreads around North Island

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The never-ending rain is floating heavy stock off the farms and into the saleyards, where returns are softer but still respectable.
More than 400 in-calf cows managed to make it through the mud to the Matawhero cattle sale.
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Once again, relentless rain has thwarted plans for any sort of normality and the blanket of mud is spreading around the North Island, almost like a contagious disease. About two rain episodes ago the ground couldn’t cope with any more moisture, yet it kept on falling, making one wonder if rice farming is worth considering instead of sheep and beef. 

The East Coast of the North Island and Northland have been hammered again, but the rest of the island is now at saturation levels as well, while some areas of the South Island have had their fair share too. 

The extreme conditions are making farming decisions really challenging and any farmer just wants to do the best by their stock. Lambing and calving are imminent or already part of the daily routine, and trying to get out to do lambing and calving beats is quite simply a nightmare. 

Many farmers have had to make the call to offload heavy stock and there has been a notable increase in R2 and prime cattle available in Hawke’s Bay, Waikato and Northland. But physically getting the stock off farm is a challenge in itself as farm tracks and the nation’s roads deteriorate further. 

Once at their sale destination there is limited demand as nearly every other farmer in the North Island is in the same boat, no pun intended. Quality cattle can still attract a good premium but the frequency of lesser, longer term types coming forward is having an impact. Sellers are having to meet the market wherever buyers are prepared to put it. That is not an unusual situation for the time of year but is compounded by the extra volume available due to offloading from sodden paddocks. The downwards schedule movements and caution from outlooks are also having an impact.  

Wellsford hosted a much larger than usual sale for the time of year as more rain meant farmers had to offload. The mainly dairy-beef line-up of nearly 650 cattle was top-heavy with R2 cattle, and steers averaged 470kg and $2.67/kg and heifers, 430kg and $2.50/kg. Frankton sales the previous week also showed that the market was starting to be as saturated as the paddocks. Prices were easier to stomach than Wellsford, though, and R2 dairy-beef steers averaged 420-470kg and $2.84-$2.94/kg. 

Heifers showed a much bigger variance, which was the result of selective bidding for true-to-type lines. They averaged 365-395kg and $2.56/kg to $2.89/kg. Extra tallies of heavy cattle are popping up in the prime pens as well and at Frankton these have been trending down in price. Last week, heavy dairy-beef steers mostly traded at $2.80-$2.90/kg but dropped to $2.70/kg at the recent sale.

Sale disruptions have been a regular occurrence in northern Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti, and even the annual bull sales weren’t immune. But, on a positive note, Matawhero managed to buck that trend and get a full yarding of over 1100 cattle to the monthly sale; for many it wasn’t a moment too soon to move stock off. 

The big yarding of in-calf cows, both due to annual offloads and farm changes, was better late than never. While it can be a tricky business getting to the Matawhero yards these days, there was still good support for the yarding of mainly traditional and exotic cattle.

At all yards there is good appetite for traditional cattle and while the prices are softer than a month ago, returns are still very respectable. At the last Feilding sale R3 traditional steers averaged 560kg and $3.34/kg while R2’s softened to $3.21/kg. Traditional heifers averaged $3.08/kg. 

Looking ahead, there is a lot less rain on most region’s forecasts, which will hopefully mean paddocks can dry out and farmers can find some sense of normality. Hands up who is looking forward to the long hot days of summer. 

This article was written by AgriHQ analyst Suz Bremner. Suz leads the AgriHQ LivestockEye team, including data collectors who are tasked with being on the ground at sale yards throughout the country. Subscribe to AgriHQ reports here.

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