Thursday, November 30, 2023

Mixed weather bag for NI as calving begins

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According to NIWA, this has been the wettest first half of the year on record for several areas in the northern and eastern North Island.
Fraser McGougan farm received 3.46 metres of rain from June 2022 to June 2023.
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Relentless wet weather over the past three months has turned many farms across the North Island into waterlogged bogs – while others have escaped unscathed.

According to NIWA, this has been the wettest first half of the year on record for several areas in the northern and eastern North Island.

Fraser McGougan said it is hard to describe how wet his farm is. 

His dairy farm near Whakatāne received received 3.46 metres of rain from June 2022 to June 2023 – the most he’s ever experienced during his time as a farmer.

The 143ha farm averages around 1100mm a year.

“It’s tough. I’ve stopped looking at the rainfall,” he said.

He has had to pull every lever available to keep the farm going. The farm is looking okay with calving about to start, but the constant wet will mean a tough spring if it persists.

“We’re having to do a lot of things to take care of our animals.”

He has focused on keeping his herd in good condition and dried them off early last season.

But the wet autumn and winter have him contemplating whether he may have to switch to once-a-day milking because the pastures are so waterlogged and not growing.

“The plants are dying because there is no oxygen in the pasture. We can’t use the nutrients and it’s just water.

“It’s so wet that water is aquifering out of the ground.”

Like Northland and East Coast/Hawke’s Bay and parts of Waikato, his farm and the wider coastal Bay of Plenty, where there are heavy soils, have been hit continuously with wet weather. 

“I think the writing is on the wall for another tough season,” he said.

In contrast, Himatangi dairy farmer Owen Greig’s farm is relatively dry and well positioned, with calving already underway.

It is a complete contrast to nearly 12 months ago when the farm was completely saturated.

“It’s certainly chalk and cheese to this time last year,” Greig said.

“Pasture cover is good, cow condition is good and utilisation through the winter is as good as you will ever see it.

“The cows are loving it and so is the team, which is great.

“We are set up to hit the ground running with everything the way we would like it.”

He believes the region by and large has handled the rain well compared to other North Island regions.

Sam Waugh, who manages Donald’s Farm at Whitford in Auckland, said while it has been a challenging winter so far, his farm has managed to avoid the worst of the wet.

The farm is down on pasture covers, he estimates by around 100kg a hectare. He has managed to make plenty of baleage during summer, meaning the farm is well stocked for feed reserves.

Other farmers around the area are in a similar position regarding feed levels, he said.

Slightly over half the farms in the region were badly affected by the rain and Cyclone Hale, while others managed to get by with less damage.

Waugh is also pretty happy with the condition of the herd, with calving getting underway. 

He extended his lactation for around 10 days before the first of his cows dried off, resisting the temptation to extend it further in case the weather turned wet and cold.

“I got some good advice from an older farmer who has been through a few seasons like this. He said expect a wet horrible winter, plan for a wet horrible winter and I’m glad I listened to that advice.”

In Northland, sharemilker Carl MacDonald said he is trying plan one day at a time as he copes with the wet and tries not to get too far ahead.

“We could get 100mm tomorrow and the plans that we have are gone and we just have to find a new plan.”

Speaking on a DairyNZ podcast, he said the farm has no standoff facilities – apart from the cowshed yard, which can hold around 400 cows, and the yards used for the former cowshed, which can hold around 150 cows.

He also has a small number of sacrifice paddocks, which he can utilise to protect his spring paddocks.

“We’re trying not to use all of our eggs in the basket. The soils are saturated. We get 5mm of rain and the creeks are up. The soils are full of water and we’re struggling in terms of finding a dry bit of ground to put cows on at the moment.”

MacDonald is in his first season on the farm and said it is tough, having come from a farm with sandy loam soils that was more resilient in wet weather.

Seeing the damage is tough and plays on his and his staff’s mind.

“The trick for us is, let’s not beat ourselves up over it and what we need to make sure is that the cows are okay, we’re okay and that we do the best that we can with our pastures.”

His advice for farmers is to do the best they can with the resources they have.

“Take it one day at a time, do your best and accept that you’re not going to 100% perfect. You’re never going to be 100% right and don’t beat yourself over it.

“The rain will stop.”

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