Bad weather renders seeds worthless

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 06:35 24/07/2014
Carrot crops and David Clark
Fairfax NZ

SOGGY SEEDS: Some farmers still do not know if their carrot seed crops have been lost for the year. Insert: David Clark.

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Some Canterbury farmers are facing big losses after bad weather ruined their seed crops, but the barley and wheat news is better, with the grains in demand as dairy feed.

Canterbury produced a significant proportion of the world supply of carrot and radish seeds, and the weather had a severe impact on the quality and germination percentage of these crops, Federated Farmers grain and seed industry group vice-chairman David Clark said.

"We had a difficult harvest with inclement weather through February and into March. Then it turned to unprecedented rains during April."

It rained on 18 of the first 21 days of April at his farm near Ashburton, he said.

Easterly winds had been common with low cloud and fog, along with a lack of the hot, dry northwesterlies that usually brought crop moisture down to levels at which combine harvesters could be used.

Some farmers already knew their seed crops were worthless this year, with some others still working through the quality tests involved.

If vegetable seeds did not meet contract specifications then the crop had to be dumped.

In some cases, 15 to 20 per cent of farm incomes came from carrot or radish seeds, Clark said.

"Margins are pretty tight in this business. Every crop has to make the grade. If you have one crop that falls out of specification, that will be the difference between profit and loss."

Some wheat crops were also affected by the weather and had been downgraded from milling quality to animal feed. A shortage of feed grain meant there would be demand for the downgraded wheat. Similarly some barley that had been harvested late would be downgraded from malting quality - used in beer production - but would find a market as feed for dairy cows. The shortage of feed grain meant feed barley was selling at a higher price than malting barely.

"The barley and wheat in New Zealand this year will sell out. As we go into the next harvest the silos will be empty," Clark said.

If a trend towards decreasing arable crops continued, there would be an increasing reliance on supplies from overseas.

For now, all barley used at the MaltEurop NZ's Marton malting factory was grown in this country.

"That's a really important market for Canterbury and Manawatu farmers. We need to continue to have a viable industry for them and us."

The strong demand for feed crops was due to the expansion of the dairy industry and the shrinkage of arable farming, as arable land was converted to dairying, he said. Despite the poor harvest, seeds would not be in short supply because the overseas companies involved managed their risk by holding more stocks than were needed each year.

"The impact will be more on individual farmers who have lost crops," Clark said. Farmers just had to "take it on the chin".

"Some farmers have had a mongrel of a harvest. Some people will convert to dairying as a result of this and some people will get out of high value vegetable-type seeds, as a way of reducing their risk. However the balancing act we face is that it is very hard to have an economically sustainable arable business without growing high value vegetable crops."

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Not all crop farmers had been affected. Worst hit areas were inland mid-Canterbury, parts of South Canterbury and North Otago, and around the Leeston and Oxford areas of central Canterbury.

- The Timaru Herald

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