Drought tightens its grip on farms

16:00, Apr 01 2014
Feilding saleyards
IT'S DRY OUT THERE: A recent aerial photo of the Feilding saleyards.

Many North Island farmers are feeling the impact of the dry conditions.

Stock are being sold to cope with the little grass on many farms.

The dew and cooler days have been helping farmers, but they need 80 millimetres or more of rain to wet needy pastures.

"It was dry before, now it's bloody dry," says farm adviser Gary Massicks.

He is from Stantiall and Keeling, the Feilding-based farm advisory company.

He said Taihape, around Marton and Kairanga, along with the light coastal country was really dry.


"Those areas need 3 inches of rain to get them growing again."

The area around Kiwitea, Kimbolton and Rangiwahia was not as dry, with some grass, but it was fast drying up, Massicks said.

"But in the already dry areas we're seeing dairy cows lose their last bit of condition."

He said beef cattle and ewes were holding - not putting any condition on, but not losing weight on the dry, stalky grass either, as there was just enough to keep them going.

"Farmers are not massively worried. Ewes and cattle are getting enough."

Advisers say that unlike last year, there was a good spring which enabled many farmers to make silage with spare feed, so there was more supplementary feed for animals this autumn.

Bulls sand country farmer Denis Hocking said it was as dry as he had seen in his many years farming.

"The accumulation of months of below average rainfall and all that wind has taken a toll."

He said most of his normally green spots had dried out.

"Any green is limited to shady areas along the south side of plantations. It is now considerably worse than last year, which was not a real drought around here, in my opinion.

"The dew might help if there was any leaf to collect a bit, but there's not."

Hocking said the real worry was how long this dry period might last.

"Recent droughts, 2003, 2008 and the autumn of 2010 have all stayed dry well into May."

He said trees were showing moisture stress and he feared some of the eucalyptus might start dying.

"I never look forward to March and am not enjoying March 2014 at all."

Feilding farmer Gordon McKellar said even compared with the drought of last year - it was dry this time round.

"We had received 57 millimetres of rain last year on the 18th March, which was the start of the recovery. This time there is no rain in the 10-day forecast and with lower autumn temperatures and daylight hours it will mean the recovery will be slower when decent rain finally arrives," he said last week.

But McKellar said that overall the season had been better than last year.

"We had very good growing conditions through last winter, spring and most of summer and have been in a much better position to handle the dry."

He said his farming operation was feeding out supplements for some of the capital stock, which were all in good condition.

"And I am aiming to not over-graze pastures so as to have them ready to grow when the rain does finally arrive."

Manawatu Standard