Thursday, December 7, 2023

Contractors and crops waiting for the sun

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Weather a bit of a worry as milk payout effects ripple across silage outlook.
Ashburton contractor Matt Lovett spreads the effluent with a tanker that lays the slurry at the base of the plant. He’s on farm every 10-14 days.
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Bring on the sunshine.

That’s the plea from North Island farmers and contractors as they wait for paddocks to dry out enough to get silage mowing and cultivation work underway.

The fine, windy weather in early September has given way to heavy rain, leaving soils waterlogged. With soil temperatures rising and pasture starting to grow, farmers are starting to make cropping decisions.

Rural Contractors New Zealand president Helen Slattery said many in Waikato are now playing a waiting game until the ground is dry enough to handle machinery.

“We have had warmth so there is grass growth, which is awesome to see, and the tractors are almost able to get onto the paddocks to do cultivation work. There’s still areas that they can’t and it’s going to be that fine line of needing to get things in and is it dry enough.

“Let’s just hope that last week isn’t the only fine weather we get this season because last year was just absolutely incredible. It affected contractors not just monetarily but also mental health-wise.”

Waikato Federated Farmers arable chair Donald Stobie said some dairy farmers who annually purchase maize silage are signalling to growers they will either be buying a similar volume or slightly less because of the low payout. 

Growers are also growing slightly less because of this softer demand.

“Although there’s been all the talk about the El Niño, right at the moment, I don’t think people are looking that far ahead.”

With the amount of paddock damage from the weather and the short pasture covers on farm, it is likely that farmers might not harvest the usual amount of grass silage as other years.

The wet autumn and winter have also prevented a lot of maize blocks being planted back into grass after harvest and this, along with the wet conditions and pasture damage, mean there could be less grass silage made, he said.

“People might think they will cut the same area, but there will be less quantity per hectare that comes off.”

There are no issues with maize seed supply, despite maize seed growers’ crops being battered by Cyclone Gabrielle. Most of the seed supply companies have 40-50% of their stock kept in cool storage to ensure supply and this will be used to cover any shortfall, he said.

He estimated planting costs will be around $300-$400/ha less than last year due to the fall in fertiliser prices.

“Although fertiliser prices have come back from their peaks, other cost are probably now locked in at new levels, and a few still rising also, like fuel and insurance. This will make this cropping season a challenge for some growers.”

The recent rain was welcomed in Hawke’s Bay, where after a wet winter, dry weather through August-September made conditions ideal for early sowing of peas, beans, malting barley and sweetcorn, the region’s arable chair for Federated Farmers, Hugh Abbiss, said.

It had been getting so dry that it was starting to cause some concern and the most recent rain was welcome.

“Everything was due a drink. While it’s held up planting and cultivation, in general everything is in good shape,” he said.

McCain is offering good prices for these crops.

“It’s given a bit of confidence in terms of potential returns.

“Process vegetables have had very good uptake, and that’s largely on the back of pricing.”

Cultivation has also started on crops such as onions and maize. Crops going into the ground now will be planted into moisture, which will give them a good start, he said.

It is still too cold for summer feed crops and no grass silage is being cut yet because pasture covers are still too tight.

Slattery said the labour issues that have plagued rural contractors over the past few years during the covid-19 border closures have largely gone and while it is always a struggle to find good staff, many employees are re-engaging machinery drivers from the northern hemisphere to come and work for the season.

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