Farmers need to start thinking about pasture

Drought-hit farmers need to start undersowing their paddocks if they want to restore pasture condition and fuel farm recovery, pasture experts say.

Graham Kerr, technical development manager at Agriseeds, said livestock management has been the priority for farmers as the dry stretched into autumn but, with the drought hopefully drawing to an end, it is time to think about pasture.

Animal management has been promoted throughout the drought but there has been very little information shared on pasture recovery, which will feed animals for the next 12 months, Kerr said.

Farmers should be out walking around pasture land to see how much of their pasture can be salvaged and then start on action plans, he said.

Paddocks beyond salvaging have less then 50 per cent cover, contain a high percentage of weeds, have damage from insects or have opened up.

There are three options to revitalise pasture - undersowing or direct drilling, planting a winter crop or new pasture cover, Kerr said.

And every farmer will have to decide the best route for their own farm, whether it is to apply the "wait-and-see" approach to possibly salvageable plants or whether it is to re-sow whole paddocks.

"After an inspection, if I was a farmer I would undersow quickly. The seed will sit in the dry soil and when the rain comes, it is all set to come away," Kerr said. "Farmers rely on contractors but when the rain comes, they can't do everything and everyone will be wanting them around at the same time."

He said that pressure will affect the supply of seed and some seed combinations have already run out.

Seed supply is planned for 18 months in advance and Kerr said that an average amount of seed for an average year was what is available in a year where there is high demand for the top end cultivars and endophytes. "I think everyone will get seed, but not necessarily what they want."

AgResearch pasture scientist Warren King said more pasture will be viable than farmers expect. "For farmers with ryegrass, it is pretty resilient and has dormancy protection," he said.

"At the time when pasture looks brown and dead, the plants may be dead or they may just be sitting there and when pulling the plants up, when you pull them apart there will be green and they will be heavy."

But Waikato farmers will be harder hit than the rest of country and need to brace for significant loss of pasture, he said.

"I think for a number of reasons the Waikato has it pretty tough, with high stock and the stock rate intensity on average and with the soil types.

"I think there's farmers feeling the impact of four or five years ago, we still see echoes of the previous drought."

But King said this is an opportunity for farmers to invest in getting their pasture into top condition.

Black beetle destruction is still on the cards as well with small pockets of infested land around the Waikato threatening to spread into adjacent areas.

The present hot, dry conditions could be the catalyst that sets off an epidemic but so far it seems to be contained.

"It's like a gun. A drought will trigger the gun but we're not sure if it is loaded yet," King said.

Waikato Times