Farmers feeling the heat

Falling prices and rising temperatures hurt

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 12:00 20/02/2013
Gordon McKellar
DAVID UNWIN/ Fairfax NZ

Arid weather is costing Feilding farmer Gordon McKellar thousands of dollars.

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Scorching conditions throughout the wider Manawatu region are hitting farmers in the pocket as they cut stock numbers to try to cope with dry pastures.

Lambs from the North Island, including Manawatu, Horowhenua, Tararua and Rangitikei, are being sent to greener pastures in the South Island for fattening.

Milk flow is also down.

Hot weather and dry winds have stripped moisture out of soils in many parts of the North Island. And there is no respite on the horizon, with MetService predicting another 10 days without rain throughout the region.

The effect the dry conditions are having on farmers was seen in the serious drops in ewe, lamb and cattle prices at Feilding stock sales.

Farmers have had to watch as meat prices decline each week.

Feilding farmer Gordon McKellar said large numbers of lambs had gone to the South Island as there was not much lamb feed in the North Island.

He said some farmers had bypassed saleyards and gone directly to South Island buyers.

 As well as feed, there was capacity at the meat plants in the South Island, because of the high number of dairy conversions.

‘‘While there is a significant cost crossing Cook Strait it has underpinned the [lamb] price for hill country farmers [in this region] and eased the delay getting stock into North Island meat plants.’’

Mr McKellar said the overseas beef price was high, but the local works price for farmers continued to drop, with the dry forcing farmers to unload stock.

‘‘That allows meat companies to strengthen their balance sheets after most lost money last year.’’

Farmers say the dry conditions, together with lower prices in the sheep and beef sector, will likely have a significant effect on incomes compared with last year.

And dairy farmers are also feeling the pinch as they reduce  cow numbers and use feed supplements to cope.

 ‘‘Things are starting to get really dry,’’ Federated Farmers Manawatu/Rangitikei president Andrew Hoggard said.

‘‘I am drying off some more cows this week.

‘‘I have dropped my numbers by about 10 per cent in the last couple of weeks. 

‘‘It is not as bad as it was a couple of years ago, but it is certainly starting to bite now.’’

Some dairy farmers were on once-a-day milking to try to cope, he said.

A recent trip to the South Island showed it was brown in the northern regions, but the grass was growing and was greener further south.

Niwa had expected February to April rainfall to be near normal, but that has so far not been the case this month, with little or no rain in most parts of the North Island.

MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said a large anticyclone was building across the country, which meant the weather would be dry and settled.

‘‘Afternoon highs in some inland places, away from the moderating effect  of the sea breeze, could climb into the low 30s over the next several days.’’

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- Manawatu Standard

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