Friday, December 8, 2023

Southern farmers in a bind

Neal Wallace
A below-average year for grass growth in Southland has been compounded by summer floods and now by a slow kill season. Farmers are scrambling to build pasture and crop cover using nitrogen and buying supplementary feed before winter bites in what is shaping up to be a challenging few months.
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They have not been comfortably ahead of pasture demand since late spring when grass growth was low and wet ground condition delayed crop sowing.

Flooding in February washed out some crops and now cool, late autumn temperatures are slowing growth.

Agribusiness Consultants spokesman Deane Carson, in Invercargill, estimates farms on average have 10% to 20% less cover than they would like heading in to winter.

“If they head into winter with greater demand for feed and not a lot surplus winter feed it adds to the pressure.”

It has been a struggle since spring.

“We actually needed a year when everything went to plan, lambs killed in a timely fashion, but we haven’t had that.”

Farmers are trying to bolster cover by applying nitrogen, feeding palm kernel and grain and looking to Canterbury to offload late season lambs as store.

Carson has heard from some farmers that killing delays could make this the last year they produce prime beef.

“Meat companies need to give some certainty about the beef kill, not just this year but long term.

“Quite a few beef farmers have struggled for space for a number of years and for some this year is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Low pasture and crop cover and killing delays have also created an issue for some dairy grazers with Carson saying some have had to pull out of contracts.

“It is leaving a few dairy farmers in tight places and a lot of hunting for opportunities for those who have had their contracts cancelled.”

Carson says there have been more cancelled contracts than usual but other parties are working through solutions such as trying to bulk up crops, keeping cows on their home farms longer or preparing to take cows off crops earlier.

Southland Federated Farmers dairy chairman Hadleigh Germann says some graziers have left the industry or reduced the number of cows they take because of uncertainty with pending freshwater regulations.

“There has been a bit of a push-back from some grazers that it is too risky, that there is not a lot of knowledge about what the freshwater rules are going to look like so they don’t want to go down that path so have planted a bit less crop.”

Delays getting stock killed have forced some sheep and beef farmers to send young dairy stock they are grazing back to their home farms.

The cow cull is running over a month late but Germann is confident most dairy farmers will manage their way through what will be a challenging winter but he feels for sheep farmers.

“It’s not perfect for dairy farmers but we feel for sheep farmers. It’s their income running around the paddock. At least we can still get milk out of the cows that we can’t get away.”

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