18 Aug 2018

On the farm: Our guide to what farmers are up to

6:38 am on 18 August 2018

Do you know what is happening on farms and orchards around New Zealand? Each week our reporters from Rural programme, Country Life, talk to farmers about the state of rural New Zealand. Here's what they told us.

No caption

Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Northland went backwards a bit this week. Until Monday there had been ten days of nice drying weather which young calves loved, but then the rain arrived for a couple of days; up to 20 millimetres falling each time, and conditions pugged up again. Thunder and lightning rattled through on Friday morning.

With fine weather at the end of last week and into the weekend, the South Auckland district started drying out which allowed vegetable and kiwifruit growers time to manage their crops. Unfortunately, the better weather didn't last and like Northland and Waikato, ended around dawn on Friday morning with brief but aggressive thunder and lighting. Many crop protection chemicals, particularly those manufactured in China are in short supply; and some prices have jumped. That's a worry because weeds and diseases are prevalent after a wet winter. Despite the challenges, there's a heavier supply now of leafy green crops and that's bringing lower prices for consumers and for growers.

Waikato has had similar conditions to South Auckland and farms on heavy soils are really pugging up again. Luckily, there are enough supplements around to top up the cows' tucker. Milk production is similar to last year. Attention to detail when it comes to calf rearing has gone up a notch and there are concern about how monitoring Mycoplasma Bovis is going using the milk testing programmes.

It's wet underfoot on Bay of Plenty farms and orchards but calving and kiwifruit pruning are going along okay. The grass is growing and a lot of orchardists are busy grafting the Sun Gold kiwifruit .

Taranaki farmers are relieved they've got through winter with pretty kind conditions. Growth rates on coastal and mid-altitude farms are ahead of normal, and vets are reporting a quiet calving.

A very mild week in King Country has seen log-fires smoulder and die. Lamb survival has been excellent, as has late winter pasture growth in response to recently applied nitrogen. Last week's local meetings held by the regional council and MPI to discuss storm resilience and the one Billion Tree project were well attended by hill country farmers. There was healthy discussion around the most suitable tree to plant and the impact on the sustainability of rural communities.

The East Coast had a nice end to the week. Some farms are looking a little short on feed but with warmer weather things will bounce away quickly. The water table is well topped up which is a nice position to be in going into spring and summer.

Hawke's Bay is looking lovely coming into early spring; in fact conditions are little above average and it's been good lambing weather.

Wairarapa is damp again. Some farmers are struggling to get their paddocks ready for set stocking their lambing ewes. There was a lot of grass in summer and autumn and those without cattle to knock it back couldn't keep on top of the quality back then, which is impacting on pastures now. However, a plus is the heat from November on appears to have knocked back porina and grass grub.

Manawatu is feeling a bit like spring with fine weather and warmer nights. Friday was wet but it was a nice rain. Cows are in good nick so calving is going well. Early lambing flocks are having good survival rates. Feilding held the annual Marton Hogget Fair this week. Some 20,000 hoggets were penned and new record prices set: top males pushed to $240-$250, while most ewe hoggets sold for $150-$186.

A large asparagus grower in Horowhenua is just back from checking the Japanese market and he says that country's excited about the taste of New Zealand's asparagus. He says no-one else grows quite the same product. This August is a bit warmer than last year so spears maybe popping up a bit earlier than last year; maybe by mid-September. On dairy farms there's been an amazing response to nitrogren fertiliser and everyone has good volumes of grass which is good for August.

In the South Island

Pruning of Gold Kiwifruit vines in the Nelson/Motueka region is coming to an end but there's still a month to go on the Green Hayward variety. Regular rain showers are slowing things down. It's still too wet to get tractors into orchards. Apple pruning is on target but bud break expected to come early so there's a bit of pressure on to get it all done.

Lambing is well underway on Marlborough's low lying farms and so far results are looking good. Mild winter conditions and better than normal pasture covers means ewes have gone into lambing in tip-top condition. High country merino shearing is due to start next month. In vineyards pruning is coming to an end and growers haven't had the winter chill they were hoping for so it will be a nervous wait to see it that impacts on next season's vintage.

It's been a mixed bag weather-wise on the West Coast. After a dry start to the week, showers in Hokitika has made the business of calving a bit messy. Despite this, early calving is going well, milking sheds are in action and Westland Co-op's tankers are busy trundling around the region's roads.

The fabulous weather pattern just keeps on coming for Canterbury and it is making lambing, calving and ground preparation for spring crops very easy. Contractors have been making baleage for the last two weeks and starlings have started nesting in the tractors - all of which is much earlier than normal. Our contact at Hororata says the southerly forecast for early next week could quite easily give them a reality check.

Staff are back from holidays now that calving is underway in South Otago. One farmer at Balcutha, who winters his cows in huge sheds, says 30 of his 1000 cows have calved so far but he's normally a bit later to start than other farmers. He's just finished making a separate shed for his bobby calves. This reduces the risk of spreading infections as the trucks that pick them up often go to several farm in a day.

When we called our contact at Waimahaka in Southland he was chasing young heifers in a paddock. The heifers and his bulls calves are behind wires on swedes. He had three days of showers this week so was feeling lucky he didn't slip over. Ewes are about 3 weeks away from lambing. Some farmers are putting Quick start fertiliser onto paddocks to boost grass growth.

*You can listen to all our Country Life programmes here.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs