Saturday, March 2, 2024

Widespread rain refreshes all farmers

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Pasture growth has sprung into life and milk and meat production are back on track after the most significant, widespread summer rainfall in early February.
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At the height of the early February rainfall, La Niña conditions funnelled the heavy tropical air directly to New Zealand.

Pasture growth has sprung into life and milk and meat production are back on track after the most significant, widespread summer rainfall in early February.

Farmers the length and breadth of the country, even in what were dry districts, have welcomed the good soaking rain, mainly without run-off.

They posted on social media with some relief the rain numbers received in farm gauges.

In the 15 days prior to February 10, over 100mm of rain and in many areas more than 200mm fell in approximately three-quarters of New Zealand’s land area.

Regions with the heaviest falls, being 200mm or more, include all the Southern Alps, West Coast, Buller, Karamea and Golden Bay, the Tararuas and western Wairarapa, Mt Taranaki and East Cape.

All other regions except coastal Southland received 30mm to 150mm.

Regions recorded between one-point-five and five times their average February rainfalls, the highest multiples being in the agricultural regions of Taranaki, coastal Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Nelson/Marlborough.

Previously very dry regions of Hawke’s Bay, Waikato, King Country and Northland received good soaking rain.

NIWA reported that only Southland, the Central Plateau and the west coast of Northland remained with drier than normal soil moistures.

Before the heavy rain event West Coast was unusually dry, but received about 100mm a day for several days running.

Large regions of the lower North Island and the upper South Island now have soil moistures that are 20-60mm above normal.

This is in stark contrast to February last year when the whole country, excluding Fiordland and West Coast, was in a pronounced soil moisture deficit.

RuralWeather meteorologist Philip Duncan said the rain event of February 3-6 was the most widespread of the past year.

“The NIWA maps now show the results, but at the time the Metservice radar and progressive totals graphically illustrated the extent of the rainfall coverage,” Duncan said.

“The first two weeks of February showed us classic La Niña air flow, with tropical energy funnelling down.

“Everyone in the North Island has felt the humidity as the sea and air temperatures have been above normal.

“For the rest of February, we expect a return to more refreshing southerly changes and higher pressures that will moderate the tropical conditions, although humidity may slowly creep back up again in the very north.”

DairyNZ head of regional teams for the North Island Rob Brazendale said farmers would not have grazable pastures for another week to 10 days.

Feed shortages could be acute in the interim and supplements would be needed.

“Without follow-up rain, one-off rain in February can lead to a green drought,” Brazendale said.

“Soil moisture has been restored and the follow-up rain forecast will restore the season for most.”

Brazendale did not expect dairy farmers to be able to claw back the 3% drop in milksolids production, season-to-date, compared with last season.

They would, however, push production where they can, to make the most of $9-plus milk prices.

“The uncertainty surrounding meat plants and covid should prompt farmers to send culls away sooner rather than later,” he said.

DairyNZ Taranaki regional leader Charlie McCaig said a lot of local infrastructure was damaged by the very high rainfall and subsequent flooding, mainly fences, culverts and small bridges.

Cows were milked throughout and tankers made collections.

“The timing of the rain in summer has meant that much of the water drained away quickly,” McCaig said.

“The farmers we have been in contact with are prioritising what they need to do to get back to normal.

“The flooding is adding to their stress but a positive is that the region was very dry and the rain will help avoid looming feed problems.”

However, at the time of writing central and lower North Island, including Taranaki, Manawatū and Wairarapa, and the West Coast and Nelson provinces of the upper South Island, were forecast to receive repeat heavy downpours, leading to possible flood damage.

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