Drab harvest nothing to get up about

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 07:15 07/03/2014
Harvester at work.
Fairfax NZ

DIFFICULT HARVEST: It has a been trying time for many Canterbury farmers trying to harvest their crops.

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A drab harvest has done nothing to excite arable farmers in Mid-Canterbury.

Harvesting came to a halt as rain swept through the vital arable region after a good run of wheat cutting over a couple of days last week.

Pockets of wheat and clover seed crops remain to be harvested as well as late rye grass crops before farmers turn their heads to vegetable seed from now to next month.

Federated Farmers Mid-Canterbury grain and seed chairman David Clark said many farmers were dealing with a difficult harvest because of cool, easterly conditions and rain, albeit at lower levels than northern and central Canterbury.

Many wheat and barley crops were brought in at marginal moisture levels.

Milling wheat quality appeared to be excellent, but milling and feed wheat yields were "pretty average", he said.

"The yields have ranged from awful to average compared with normal seasons. We have had two exceptional harvests in a row in Canterbury, but we certainly haven't been three in a row. That's not a grumble - it's the nature of farming."

If there is a flipside to average grain yields it's that the amount of unsold grain on the market will be "dramatically reduced" from now onwards.

Stored grain has overhung the market since 2009 with the surpluses running through to the next season after sales, but should be emptied by this season's average yield and strong demand from dairy farmers wanting to maximise milk production during a high payout.

Clark said dairy farmers could be expected to feed their cows well at a payout forecast by Fonterra of $8.65 a kilogram of milksolids.

He said feed wheat and barley had maintained a fair price of $405 a tonne the past six months and it would be interesting to see if there was movement once surpluses were removed.

"It's been a sod of a year right from the start when it was raining in May and June, wind storms in September and October, drought and extreme heat in September and this easterly harvest."

Farmers had failed to receive the benefit of autumn planting because the wet June delayed sowing and soaked soils.

Average yields for irrigated wheat are expected to be about 10 tonnes a hectare from 12t/ha normally.

Average barley yields range from 6.5t/ha to 8.5t/ha.

Vining peas for processing were an "absolute disaster", Clark said.

The approaching harvesting of specialty seed crops would be a make or break stage for farmers because of their high value.

Modern ryegrass had to be removed in February instead of the month before and this had compressed harvesting into the grain harvest as late flowering varieties were more popular with pastoral farmers, he said.

Clark mowed and windrowed the last big block of grass seed last week. The seed and some grain crops still needed to be brought in.

He said dairying was a major income source for arable farmers providing feed grain, kale and fodder beet crops and dairy grazing options.

However, the estimated 50 or 60 dairy conversions, including on arable land, this season would need the same number of farms to support them.

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This year's grain harvest has also been a stop-start affair for South Canterbury farmers, with damp conditions delaying the work and grains harder to get out of their husks.

- The Press

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