Dry, mild winter keeps pastures in good condition

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 12:54 18/07/2014

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Canterbury dairy farmers have gone from a wet autumn to a mild winter in the lead-up to calving and the new milking season.

Many pastures were in good condition for farmers to bring heifers for calving on the main milking platforms from next week, with mature cows following a week to 10 days later.

A drier winter has kept grass growing, to the relief of some farmers.

Wetter soils remain saturated despite mild conditions over the winter so far, and farmers, including on heavier ground around Lincoln, will be wanting the rain to hold off to avoid pasture damage from pugging by cow hoofs when the herds return.

Farmers with lighter soils will be in a better position.

DairyNZ Canterbury/North Otago regional leader Virginia Serra said the pasture covers of many dairy farmers were on target despite the seasonal swings.

Pastures were back in autumn, she said, but there had been more grass growth over a mild winter and they were looking good at this stage.

Pasture condition would have been worse if the wet weather had carried through winter, she said.

"In some cases when we have a mild winter we could end up with too much grass in spring, which is not a bad thing and I couldn't see that as a big problem."

Some Canterbury areas received more than double the average autumn rainfall, and the dry winter had been a big help for farmers with full effluent systems.

Cow condition appears to be reasonable despite the challenges of a wet, late autumn and many cows are also expected to be on target.

Many farmers have enough feed in supplements and winter feed crops to get them through the winter should the weather turn again.

Some South Canterbury farmers may have used more feed than planned on wetter ground.

Serra said farmers on heavier soils would be careful to avoid pugging by keeping cows off saturated ground as much as possible to avoid costly grass damage.

Remaining effluent in ponds could be a challenge if it got wet again, but was unlikely to be worse than other years, she said.

Farmers had been investing in effluent ponds and were prepared for the unexpected if it got wet or snowed, she said.

The workloads of dairy farmers will build up from calving to the spring "flush" when pastures are in full growth.

Farmers will be focusing on making calf pens ready and bringing cows home with more staff returning to the main farms.

Serra said there appeared to be fewer dairy conversions for the coming season, and certainly not the repeat of 60 conversions of several years ago.

A lower payout and tighter environmental restrictions in local plans may be a factor in the slower turnover of sheep, beef and other farms to dairying.

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- The Press

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