"Pretty good season" for declining wheat harvest in Marlborough's Awatere Valley

Seddon farmer Andrew Jones is one of the last remaining wheat growers in Marlborough

Seddon farmer Andrew Jones is one of the last remaining wheat growers in Marlborough

Timely rainfall over the past fortnight had helped turn this year's cropping harvest from a potential disaster to an "average" season in Marlborough.

Seddon wheat grower Andrew Jones finished harvesting the last of a total 44 hectares of wheat on Starborough farm on Monday.

"It's been a very hard season after an exceptionally dry, cool and windy spring but it will be a surprisingly reasonable crop which is due to lots of irrigation," Jones said.

Seddon farmer Andrew Jones harvesting wheat at Starborough farm.

Seddon farmer Andrew Jones harvesting wheat at Starborough farm.

Lack of rain during the spring and early summer had been a significant factor but 60 millimetres of rainfall at the beginning of January, and a fortnight later, had boosted other areas of the farm growing grapes, maize and clover, he said.

The property received only 23mm rainfall between October and December and the El Nino conditions had been a "real grind".

"Up until Christmas we were getting hammered but the 60mm rain in January was what we needed to raise the river levels," he said.

In comparison, only 2mm of rainfall was recorded in January a year ago.

Now that the wheat harvest was completed irrigation could be directed towards other crops such as sweetcorn, maize, grapes and clover.

The wheat would be for either stock feed, or sold to grain and seed merchants Kiwi Seed in Blenheim on contract to be used to manufacture breakfast cereal.

Jones was one of only three wheat growers left in the Awatere Valley where traditional cropping had been steadily replaced by vineyards.

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"We are now growing crops for a niche market partly due to the increasing land use changes," he said.

"We are always looking at putting in more grapes but on the other hand we like growing wheat and other crops.

"There's a lot of work but it's a pretty satisfying to go through the process to harvest.   

"In the end it comes down to the individual and how they want to run their business."

Kiwi Seed managing director Bruce Clark said the region was once known as "Marlborough the golden" when broad acre cropping was at its peak 50 years ago.

"At its peak we had 30 wheat growers, now we have only three growing for us," he said.

"There were thousands of tonnes of wheat grown 25 years ago, now we would get only a few hundred tonnes.

"It's a niche market now which suits our company."

The company sells the wheat to Hubbard Foods, the last NZ-owned cereal manufacturer operating, for breakfast cereals.

Clark said the current season was a "good average season."

"The growers do a great job, they enjoy it and I think they get a buzz out of it.

"The rain came at the right time to avert a disaster for a lot of crops, such as any of the later harvest crops like the clover which will benefit greatly from the rain."

Crops such as rye corn, borage barley and black oats will be harvested in February and March followed by lucerne, pop corn, red clover and annual clover.

Kiwi Seed also buy in crops such as pop corn, and other specialty crops to sell through its retail shop in Blenheim. 

Contractor Dave Brydon said the market for growing red clover in Marlborough remained "reasonable" but the market for grain had finished in the region.

Brydon leased 600ha in the Wairau Valley to grow barley, red clover and lucerne.

Much of what he grew was uncontracted, he said.

"There is only one piggery left in the region, and the dairy guys aren't buying the amount of grain they did last year, and there is no wheat market to speak of."


 - The Marlborough Express


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