Farmer Focus Arable: Bill Davey battles winter rainfall in NZ

Winter started here in New Zealand while many regions were still in a state of drought.

Dairy farmers in particular had been feeding valuable winter rations to cows in the absence of grass growth and cereals were also struggling to emerge in places due to insufficient soil moisture.

It was all change in the last week of May with 8in (200mm) of rainfall making the wettest period I can ever remember either here or in England. Thankfully, it fell as rain and not snow on the plains.

We have suffered no damage to crops, but have probably lost a few more lambs than we would have expected, although these were the weaker animals. Nature equips them well to cope with adverse weather, but a week of continuous heavy rain both day and night puts them under pressure. Keeping them full of high-quality feed is our top priority, which means they can maintain energy levels and body heat during cold periods.

Some 12,600 store lambs on farm, most of which are being break fenced on brassicas, has put huge pressure on staff. I acknowledge with gratitude the stirling effort made by our shepherd, Andrew Furzeland, along with son, Nick. It’s been a battle.

Before the weather broke, we had recommendations to apply herbicides to all our autumn sown cereals and grass seed crops, but that’s very much on the back burner now.

One flour mill has put a contract out for Claire type wheat at NZ$320/t (£145/t) spread payment for the coming harvest. Another merchant is offering $300/t (£136) prompt payment following harvest for feed wheat.

Given the carry-over of stocks from last harvest and the market in general, I’ve signed both contracts, rightly or wrongly. Hanging on for a few dollars more has been the downfall of many over the years and now, more than ever cash-flow is king.

• For more columns from other Arable Farmer Focus writers

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