Low rainfall challenges local farmers

Grass growth is back on track thanks to a warmer winter, farmers say.

The dry year so far has been a double-edged blade for grass growth in the district, local farmers say.

The total rainfall for the year at 407mm is less than half the total for June 2018, which was 1171mm, thanks to a dry summer and an unusually dry start to winter.

Tomarata’s Brian Mason is right in the thick of an early calving season on his dairy farm, thanks to the extra grass provided by the dry winter.

“It has been incredible grass growth and utilisation. We need to have the cows in good order for calving and a dry June was a help because we couldn’t grow grass in summer,” he says.

“Earlier in the season we had selective drying off of cows that were low producers and had to bring in supplemental feed, so we are fortunate with a favourable winter.”

Ahuroa’s Nicky Berger says the rain came at just the right time to replenish the moisture in the soil on their sheep and beef farm, and has been the perfect welcome to winter.

“For us, a warmer, dryer May and June has meant the grass has continued to grow,” she says.

“Sheep scanning rates throughout the country are down 15-20% due to seasonal challenges at tupping time in March, when there was less grass.

“However, we are feeling really positive about the sector and are receiving good prices and demand for grass-fed beef and sheep internationally.”

Wellsford’s Colin Beazley says his grass has been growing fine, but the dry had made access to fresh water for his dairy herd difficult.

“We were very close to needing to bring in water and at one point, only had four days of supply left.

Until a week ago, we were still chasing water from pond to pond to siphon into our troughs,” he says.

“Normally at the end of March or April, we get grass coming back and a bit of rain and even a bit of moisture. But this year the dry pushed right out until end of June.”

Colin splits his season; with half his herd calving in March while the other half will calve over the next few weeks during July.

“The dry was a problem, but now it’s awesome because we are not making any mud and the cows are a lot healthier because they can utilise the grass a lot better.”

“Normally by this time the soils are saturated and we will be standing off cows to protect them and the environment. But there is still plenty of room in the soil to suck up any moisture that we get.”

A weather station in Sandspit, run by Jetta and Alan Laurenson, recorded on July 5 that 68.4mm of rain had fallen since the start of the month, compared to 73.8mm for the whole month of June.


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