Farmers hit with low prices, rising costs

The hills north of Cheviot are showing the effects of a dry summer. Photo: Robyn Bristow
Photo: Robyn Bristow/ODT files
Drought-stricken farmers are facing a long winter and a "double-whammy" as rising costs and low product prices are compounded by this year’s dry conditions.

The coalition government is expanding its medium-scale adverse classification to cover Canterbury and Otago after it was declared in Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough last Thursday.

Rural communities minister Mark Patterson said the declaration released some funding for the Otago Rural Support Trust to support farmers through what were some "pretty tough times".

The trust will receive $20,000 to organise community events that will offer management advice to farmers as well as one on one consultations with experts.

Mr Patterson, who is a farmer in Lawrence, said it was a tough time for farmers in Otago after a fourth dry autumn in a row had resulted in low feed reserves.

"It’s a long, long way to spring.

"It’s the perfect storm out there at the moment."

High interest rates, low prices for sheep and lamb, and high farm running costs and inflation were making things more difficult.

"Without significant rainfall in the next three weeks we are getting into a very serious situation.

"The window for growing feed before winter starts to kick in is getting narrower everyday."

Five Forks sheep and beef farmer Greg Ruddenklau said relief would come when it rained.

The only issue was when.

"If we got more rain now, or significant rain now, there’s plenty of time before it gets cold.

Mark Patterson
Mark Patterson
"The ground’s still warm, so you’d certainly get growth.

"But you’d need a lot.

"That’s the weather, you can’t do a lot about it, you just take what you can get."

He was trying to determine what type of feed to use ahead of mating, whether to sell or keep calves through the winter and whether to offload lambs.

The Five Forks area caught a little luck with 17mm "out of the blue" last week, but that was the only rain since the beginning of January and it remained very dry on the farm, Mr Ruddenklau said.

"It didn’t really do a lot. You need follow-up rain, another one again now to make use of it, I guess."

Without significant rain before winter, the situation would likely escalate to a large-scale event.

He understood that farmers, including in the Hakataramea Valley and Omarama, were starting to use winter feed supplies.

"You usually have a start date later in autumn and winter, but if you start in autumn, you potentially could run out in the middle of winter, which is not favourable."

Costs were up and the drought was compounding it.

For sheep and beef farmers, the dry conditions were further compounded by low product prices.

"You get sort of a double-whammy, I suppose.

"A fat lamb around 18kg, a bit over $100, where it should be around $140, $150, probably."

Old ewes were a little over half what they were worth last year.

Otematata sheep and beef farmer Hugh Cameron said the medium-scale adverse event classification would likely help struggling farmers.

"I’m sure it’s not a bad idea.

"Certainly travelling around some of the other areas in smaller properties that don’t necessarily have the scope or whatever.

"Yeah, they’ll be finding it pretty hard, I would think." — additional reporting RNZ