Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Challenging season winds down for Waikato maize growers

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Arable farmers have been in the weeds – and it’s showing up in lower yields.
A lot of the lodged crops flattened by cyclones Hale or Gabrielle have been harvested, with varying success.
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It’s been a season of challenges for Waikato maize growers, who have had to deal with cyclones, huge crop variability and widespread weed infestations.

The average estimated crop harvest has yields down 2 tonnes per hectare from previous years, with crops ranging from terrible to better than normal. 

Those crops on heavier and wetter soils have been hardest hit, Waikato Federated Farmers arable chair Keith Holmes said.

One of the biggest headaches is where to store maize silage as many silage bunkers are still full of grass silage, he said.

A lot of the lodged crops (crops affected by cyclones Hale or Gabrielle) have been harvested with varying success and a lot of the other summer crops have by default become “regen crops” due to weed infestations.

“Weeds are rampant this year and are hiding traditional ‘holes’ in permanent pasture, smothering rape and turnip crops and smothering early planted re-grassing,” he said.

Feed quality will be an issue with the best use for some grass silage being winter feed for dry cows. Some maize crops will have no or very few cobs, and some early cut maize will be significantly higher in proteins.

“As winter starts to bite, there is likely to be pressure on winter feed, grazing and killing space from the cyclone-affected areas – this will create both opportunity and challenges in the Waikato,” he said.

“It has been and still is a season of challenges – however the Waikato in the main has dodged most of the bullets. 

“Quick decision making and agility is going to continue to be essential. Feed quality, harvesting, weeds, re-grassing, pre-emptive financial planning and managing stock numbers will be but some of the balls we will need to keep an eye on.”

Grain Corp general manager Daniel Calcinai said it has been an extraordinary growing season for much of the North Island, which has meant supplementary feed demand has been lower.

“There’s stuff everywhere. There’s a lot of feed in store for when it’s needed around the country.”

Prices are also coming off their recent highs, although he warned there is still some volatility.

Looking ahead, most dairy farmers are waiting to see Fonterra’s new season milk price forecast before committing to too many spending decisions.

“We have seen some commitment made, in some cases 30-40% of what they may need for the season.”

Getting a return on their investment is key, whatever spending decisions are made around supplementary feed, he said.

“It is crucial that each kilogram of feed purchased helps you achieve your specific objectives, whether that’s to keep condition on cows or maintain production.

“More than ever before, it’s important you feed the right feed at the right time, particularly as the value proposition for each feed has changed significantly.

“The adage that ‘cheapest isn’t best’ certainly rings true right now. In many cases we are seeing farmers invest in higher quality feed to help improve feed conversion efficiency and milk volumes. If managed well, this approach can provide an astounding return on investment.”

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