Weather extremes may be new normal

Arable farm crops. Photo: Getty Images
Temperatures in the 30’s and 42 days without rain in November and December took its toll on grain crops and then rain in January and February hampered efforts to harvest the crops. Photo: Getty Images

Arable farmers may need to get used to extreme weather.

After record-breaking harvests in recent years, this summer’s extreme heat and rain created challenges for Canterbury arable farmers and could become more common with climate change, Arable Research Foundation chairman David Birkett said.

‘‘Is this the new norm? The higher temperatures and the extremes is maybe what we can expect with global warming,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s almost a bit of a wake­up call that things are changing and we’ve got to farm around it.’’

Temperatures in the 30’s and 42 days without rain in November and December took its toll on grain crops and then rain in January and February hampered efforts to harvest the crops.

‘‘This season has been pretty average. I think that heat early on did more damage than we first thought,’’ Mr Birkett said.

The extreme heat before Christmas meant grain crops were ripening early, reducing yields by 15%-20%.

‘‘It was certainly a season of three halves when you consider the wet winter and early spring, and then it stopped raining for a couple of months and then from Christmas onwards the rains came quite often.

‘‘There’s been some magnificent green-feed crops, but trying to sell hay and baleage is hard work because there’s so much feed around at the moment.’’

Mr Birkett said some farmers in coastal areas, particularly around Leeston and Pendarves in Mid­Canterbury, had less rain than last summer and up to 100mm less rain than on farms further inland.

Some crops fared worse than others at high temperatures. Ryegrass, for example, stopped growing at 27degC, whereas fescue continued to grow.

‘‘We will need to think about changes to our seasons but it does create some other opportunities like rethinking what we grow, how we grow and what new varieties are out there.’’

DAVID.HILL@alliedpress.co.nz 

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