Friday, July 1, 2022

Rain welcomed but feed challenges remain

Persistent rain and unseasonably warm temperatures over the past several days have put a green tint back into Waikato soils.

More rain is forecast, leading to some farmers hoping it may signal the end of the drought that has hit the region over the past few months.

Rainfall data sites monitored by the Waikato Regional Council ranged from 39mm at Waitanguru in the southwest corner of the region, 50mm in Otorohanga, 54mm at Maungakawa in northeast Waikato, 63mm in Te Kuiti, 74mm in Tokoroa, 80mm in Te Aroha, 196mm in Te Poi, and 258mm on the summit of the Kaimai Ranges.

Other farmers reported 60mm at Eureka, 55mm near Te Aroha, 48mm south of Otorohanga, 100mm near Matamata and 46mm near Whaeranga.

Neil Bateup, who chairs both the Waikato Primary Industries Adverse Event Cluster and the Rural Support Trust, said it was the first time the region has had successive rainfalls since early December.

“It’s the first time we’ve had follow-up rain after rain. The other times we have had a bit of rain, but then nothing.

“I drove across the Hauraki Plains a few days ago and it’s great to see it all green and in a growing state.”

Bateup believed the rain should be enough to kickstart pasture recovery across the region.

“Any moisture we do get is sticking around. I believe it’s enough to get the grass growing well, it’s now a question of building the feed ahead,” he said.

While covers are still very short, the grass was now responding to the warm temperatures and was growing again.

“While things are pretty good and we’re certainly not in a drought, were still in a massive feed deficit situation.”

Andrew Reymer
Waikato dairy farmer

Waikato Federated Farmers dairy chairman Andrew Reymer said it will still take a while for pastures to fully recover and provide sufficient feed to get through winter.

“It’s warm and things are looking pretty good and we can’t ask for more than that, but we’re still way behind feed requirements and pasture cover.”

He estimated farmers were about six weeks behind in regard to those covers.

“While things are pretty good and we’re certainly not in a drought, were still in a massive feed deficit situation.”

On his own farm, he estimated he has about three weeks of maize silage left in his bunker, but has already made contingency plans to ensure he has sufficient feed for his cows as calving gets underway.

The rain has also come too late for many sharemilkers and contract milkers with clauses in their contracts around feed levels for the new employee if they are shifting to a new farm over Moving Day.

Bateup said they have encouraged both farm owners and sharemilkers to talk to each other and come to an agreement for how to resolve the situation. The good dairy payout meant in most circumstances the two parties have been able to come to an amicable agreement.

The Ministry for Primary Industries classified Waikato’s drought as a medium scaled adverse event last month after advice from the cluster and other groups. 

Bateup said that classification will stay in place for now and it will be reviewed when it meets in June.

Favourable May weather has eased what was looming as an especially tough winter for farmers in Southland and South Otago.

Regular rain and warm temperatures has encouraged some late autumn growth and while winter will still be tight for some, farming leaders say prospects are now better than initially feared.

Wyndham farmer and Southland Federated Farmers meat and wool section chairman Dean Rabbidge says the temperature hit 21C this week and grass is still growing heading into June.

His winter crops are on average 4t/ha heavier than expected. 

For those farmers who took proactive steps when it stopped raining in late summer, Rabbidge says on-farm conditions will be close to where they would  want then to be.

“We’ve got some breathing space which is good.”

Dairy farmers have milked longer than they were planning two months ago and Rabbidge says many have dried off in the past two weeks.

Conditions have improved in parts of Otago although farmers will not want too many extreme winter weather events.

Otago Federated Farmers president Mark Patterson says regular rain and warm temperatures have encouraged a late flurry of growth but farmers will still have to carefully manage feed.

“Crops have picked up, we’ve had some pasture growth and the long range weather forecast favours warmer temperatures so in terms of where we were, this is the best we could have hoped for.”

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