Saturday, April 13, 2024

Feed the focus as dry drags on

Avatar photo
Top of the South Rural Support Trust fielding more calls than usual.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Top of the South Rural Support Trust is experiencing a greater than usual number of calls to its confidential helpline as a result of the extreme stress caused by drought conditions.

Enquiries are mostly relating to matters of financial assistance, as well as advice regarding feed distributors and freight costs. The organisation’s Drought Shout events – which include advice from consultants as additional support – have been well attended, with more planned as increasing numbers struggle. 

“A lot of people have destocked early to significantly reduce their numbers,” said chair Richard Kempthorne, who also chairs the Rural Advisory Group. 

“They’re using the supplementary feed in the summer they normally have for winter, so they’re going to be short of feed going forward. One of the things we will be looking at is how to help access stock feed for the winter.

“In the top of the south we’re all affected, so it’ll be a case of looking elsewhere, but Canterbury is also in drought and the West Coast is just now experiencing drought too. 

“Freight costs are very high so it’s quite a challenge and a case of trying to set that up as efficiently and economically as possible.”

Last month drought was declared in the Marlborough, Tasman and Nelson region as a medium-scale adverse event. 

“I think the difference that’s made in particular is it’s given an acknowledgement of the actual situation farmers are in,” Kempthorne said. “It shows that their plight is recognised.

“NIWA has been suggesting we’ll have a drought through April but what’s needed is a weather pattern change with settled rain over a day or two. We need 50 to 100mm to really make a difference.” 

Although many farmers are resilient, their struggles won’t be without stress, he said, and many have already had to part with a number of capital stock. 

“They’re just under continual pressure,” Kempthorne said. “They get out of bed in the morning, look after the stock, see how little feed they’ve got and know it’s going to continue until we get significant rain. 

“It’s very depressing for them so we’ve got people involved with the trust who can get alongside farmers and help with support.”

As well as giving access to counsellors, another Rural Support Trust facility is the Business Advice Fund, which gives up to $6000 for financial or consultancy advice to plan through difficult times.

Kempthorne urges those under pressure who need help to phone the trust’s 0800 787 254 number.

The line’s certainly been in demand, said Sarah White, wellbeing coordinator at the Top of the South Rural Support Trust, who also provides a link to available resources, including with Inland Revenue.

“It’s much busier than we would usually see at this time of the year,” said White, who notes the greatest number of calls from those seeking feed have come from Nelson.

“We’re hearing from other parts of the country that there is excess feed but getting it to the top of the south is costly because it’s either in Southland or parts of the North Island. Getting it across the Cook Strait is uneconomical for farmers, especially at a time when they’re getting less for their product, but they need to have feed now rather than in June or July

“During past events we have relied on groups to contribute towards the cost of freight of donated feed but that’s not currently available and it’s putting real financial pressures on farmers.”

Marlborough hay producer Scott Bishell of Caythorpe Farm in the Wairau Valley started receiving enquiries as early as December. Photo Tim Cuff

Marlborough hay producer Scott Bishell of Caythorpe Farm in the Wairau Valley has been making baleage for around 25 years and started receiving enquiries as early as December.

“Baleage historically has sold well here because Marlborough is traditionally summer dry, so those of us on the flats that do have irrigation have been able to produce supplementary feed for those up on the hills, but the level of demand this year has been greater than ever. 

“Normally it’s winter before it’s wanted but this year it’s moved a lot faster and by early January most of it had gone.”

Bishell has kept a volume for his own stock, but still has some smaller bales of lucerne, popular among the equestrian community.

As well as feed, another main issue has been the lack of water, said Stephen Todd, president of Federated Farmers Nelson. He knows of some, especially in the Dovedale and Moutere catchment, having to truck water in for stock, at a cost of over $500 a day in some cases.

“It is getting pretty drastic,” said Todd. 

“Food’s probably expected with dry, but water is something that adds another dimension. It’s got to be one of the tougher times of late because it’s the ultimate storm and the pressure of that starts building pretty quickly.”

A farmer shared with him recently that he is buying in feed for his cattle at a cost of $1,000 a day. 

“He was driving to the Waimea Plains to pick up baleage and bought enough for a short while but said it would soon run out without meaningful rain,” Todd said.  

“When you’re paying that money it runs away very quickly with any profits you may be trying to scratch out. Some people are getting pretty desperate now.”

People are also reading