Farmers urged to assess situations

As leaves turn colour, marking autumn, bare paddocks south of Balclutha show a developing drought in South Otago. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
As leaves turn colour, marking autumn, bare paddocks south of Balclutha show a developing drought in South Otago. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
As dry conditions continue to bite in the Clutha district, Milton farmer Nigel Woodhead is imploring farmers to assess their own situations.

Last week, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said he would continue to monitor conditions so the Government was ready to step in if required.

That followed a request by Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker to officially declare a drought in the district.

Yesterday, Mr Woodhead said the situation on his own farm was ''not really flash''. Pasture covers were a third or quarter of where they needed to be, and growth rates were lower than average. Crop yields were also ''definitely back''.

Nigel Woodhead
Nigel Woodhead
He was relieved he had made whole crop silage this year, the first time for a long time.

''We would have been in a really bad way without it,'' he said.

Fortunately, he had also made plenty of baleage and supplements, although he still had four loads of supplements due - ''just to try and give us a bit more to get through''.

He had some lambs away grazing in a profit-share deal with a friend and was contemplating sending further stock away.

''Personally, I think we're in a worse position than last year because it is so late. If we don't get the most favourable winter ... next year is almost going to be a write-off too. That's what scares me.

''It's as bad as it can get, I believe, because there's no chance of coming out of it,'' Mr Woodhead said.

He encouraged farmers to do a feed budget, measure crops and how much grass they had. If they did not know how to do that, they should contact someone who did.

They needed to take an accurate look at how much feed they had in hand, including supplements, and also needed to assess the conditions of stock by getting them in the yards and examining them.

''It's about knowing what's going on, knowing the situation you're in as it stands. Acknowledge where you are now and make a plan,'' he said.

Mr Woodhead did his own feed budget last week and while it was ''not good'', he knew where he was at.

It was concerning that the grass that was there was of very poor quality and some stock would struggle over winter.

He encouraged farmers to talk to others - ''everyone is in the same boat'' - and there was feed available in other districts if it was required.

Southland farmers able to provide grazing had been asked to contact Otago Federated Farmers territory manager Nick Abbott.

Yesterday, Mr Abbott said about six or seven grazing options had been passed on to farmers in the Waitahuna and Clinton areas. The real need seemed to be for hoggets.

Advance Agriculture South Otago-based agronomist Simon Walker said grass covers were very low and recovery from grazing was ''extremely slow'' until follow-up moisture arrived.

Establishing new perennial pastures was a challenge and there had also been high insect numbers in brassicas since mid-March.

Like Mr Woodhead, he also encouraged farmers to do a crop assessment and feed budget to see if there was going to be a yield deficit prior to starting grazing.

That would give farmers time to find extra supplements or off-farm grazing to get through winter, he said.

If sowing grass now, farmers should consider sowing a cultivar like an annual or Italian ryegrass that would establish quicker and grow more feed during the cold months to help with lower crop yields.

''If you haven't checked your crops for insects, I'd recommend doing so, and treating if necessary as yield losses can be significant this close to grazing.

''Check your younger paddocks up to 3-years-old for pasture insects like porina and grass grub, as they can wipe out feed on your most productive pastures,'' Mr Walker said.

There were not many days left of growth heading into winter so the use of growth promotants might help build covers when growth resumed, he said.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand southern South Island extension manager Olivia Ross said both B+LNZ and DairyNZ would be sending out key resources and support networks available over the next few days.

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