AgFirst director James Allen has been appointed by MPI to keep a watching brief over national rainfall, pasture growth and feed supplies after the dire outcome of this year’s drought in Hawke’s Bay.
Allen says the winter-early spring had delivered some ideal conditions for lambing and calving and, as of now, most regions appeared outwardly well watered.
“Most areas are looking reasonably good with exceptions of South Canterbury and North Otago, which are dry,” he said.
“Most of the country has enough moisture to keep grass growing and is getting good pasture utilisation.”
However, the flip side to this was anecdotal evidence from farmers that bore levels are low and sub-soil moisture is also very low, leaving many nervous about what summer could bring.
Many regions in both islands this year have been faced with a second consecutive dry year, with year-to-date rainfall as low as only 55% of historical averages.
The Government had recognised the implications of last year’s dry, and Allen’s appointment was an effort to be more proactive this year in predicting likely risks.
“When it comes to having supplementary feed, the cupboard is empty,” he said.
Drought recovery in Hawke’s Bay and floods in Northland served to drain the country’s remaining supplement surpluses months ago, leaving this spring’s growth even more critical for restocking barns and silage pits.
“We are encouraging farmers to work on maximising their silage harvest this spring, getting good quality and plenty of it where possible,” he said.
This represented Plan A, with all going well and good spring rains to encourage growth.
Plan B was required should things not go to plan and feed starts to tighten early on.
“We are encouraging farmers to have a trigger date by which they will make critical decisions on which levers to pull for stock numbers and feed,” he said.
He urged farmers to write the date down and likened the temptation to delay a decision as going another round in a casino session.
“You hold on and hope things come right,” he said.
He agreed in the past high returns for red meat or good milksolid prices made making that decision to throttle back that much harder.
“People opt to hang on longer than they should, most years when you do the analysis, they do not come out of it any better by the time they have had to source extra feed,” he said.
He has noticed a lift in maize area due to go in this season, along with summer dry supplement crops like chicory, plantain and turnips, reflecting a degree of caution over how dry summer may be.
Forecasters have been predicting a strengthening likelihood New Zealand experiences a La Nina event this summer, which may bring more welcome north-easterly rainfall along the coast.
Both Australian and New Zealand forecasters have put the countries on La Nina alert status, with five of eight weather forecasting models anticipating a La Nina formation during October.
Allen cautioned it was not panic stations yet, but was urging farmers to keep a careful eye on meteorological indicators and what they may mean for their respective districts.