Post-drought farming challenges loom

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 06:39 03/06/2014
Waikato's drystock farmers are facing post-drought challenges this winter including lighter conditioned ewes, and underweight cattle.
Fairfax Media

AFFECTED: Waikato's drystock farmers are facing post-drought challenges this winter including lighter conditioned ewes, and underweight cattle.

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Waikato and King Country drystock farmers are still facing ongoing challenges as the after effects of the drought linger.

While these farmers have had enough rain, they have been unable to buy in supplements to maintain the weight on their stock, Waikato Rural Support Trust chairman Neil Bateup said.

"Those farmers don't have the opportunity to bring in supplements like dairy farmers do."

Dairy farmers are able to bring in maize silage, palm kernel (PKE) and grass silage for their herds, which allows them to manage their pastures better.

"In a drystock farm, you can't go and feed PKE on the hills and they tend to keep eating the new growth and are not in a position to manage their farm so well," he said.

Bateup was part of a recent teleconference monitoring the siltation, involving Federated Farmers, the Rural Support Trust, Beef + Lamb NZ, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Waikato Regional Council.

It discussed how rain in April had kick-started recovery from the drought. However, while regular rain had fallen in May, it had been at much lower levels than normal.

While some drystock farmers were struggling, dairy farmers were in good spirits as their pastures had recovered well and they were planning for the season ahead.

Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis encouraged farmers them to reach out for help if required.

"There's no need to suffer in silence. Contact your bank, Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb or the Rural Support Trust if you need advice or assistance."

Also affected were those sheep and beef farmers grazing dairy heifers for dairy farmers.

A number of those heifer herds had returned to the dairy farmer less than their target weights despite the best efforts of both parties. Some of those cattle would have lived through two droughts, Bateup said.

"They have been up against it through their whole lives."

It would undoubtedly affect those cows' ability to get in-calf and their milk production, he said.

Beef cattle weights and sheep farmers with later lambing ewes were also affected.

Sheep farmers had initially coped well with the dry weather and those with early lambing ewes would have been able to maintain ewe condition when the ram went out.

"There is a concern that as the drought went on and ewes starting losing weight, the results might not be so good for the later mated ones," Bateup said.

Farmers would not know for certain until their ewes are pregnancy scanned in July.

If scanning results were down, it would affect next year's income for those farmers, he said.

Farmers faced a similar challenge last winter, although Bateup believed this year's drought was worse than last year in some areas.

"In some areas, the recovery hasn't been as quick as last year and it varied from area to area and farm to farm."

There had been a small number of calls to the Rural Support Trust helpline, but Bateup anticipated it might not be until early next year when the financial effects of this year's drought started to impact because drystock farmers might have fewer lambs to sell.

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The teleconference decided this would be the last scheduled catch-up in the wake of the drought, but officials would reconvene if the situation warranted.

- Waikato Times

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