Farmer Focus Arable: Bill Davey rethinks malting barley options

It’s -10C this morning, a good excuse to stay in a warm office to write this month’s article.

Malting barley contracts are to be cut by 35% which will rock our spring crop options boat. Malteurop, the only real player here, blames lack of export demand resulting from the global recession. We had planned to sow 80ha but we shall have to look at the alternatives.

With the dairy industry hurting due to drastically reduced payouts, growing maize and grass silage doesn’t stack up at the price farmers are prepared to pay per kg of dry matter. Just what they’re going to feed their cows on next winter remains to be seen.

Palm kernel extract imported from Indonesia and viewed by many as a threat to New Zealand’s biosecurity, is cheap but not the answer when it comes to sustained milk production.

So, has the time come to change our farm policy or do we just stick to the knitting and hope that things slowly return to normal?

I think not. With the flexibility that irrigation has quite markedly brought us we can afford to change direction when conditions dictate. To have all of one’s eggs in one basket, as most dairy farmers have, allows little room for manoeuvre when the going gets tough.

There are alternative spring crops to consider, but looking at the bigger picture field contamination becomes a real problem. Borage, Japanese radish, pak-choi, etc will rear their ugly heads for years to come once grown so it’s not quite that simple.

Store lambs, despite being expensive, are leaving a respectable margin as they reach their target liveweight of 47kg. So I’m seriously considering whether we should trade summer lambs this year, grazing our Italian ryegrasses rather than offering them as silage to dairy farmers.

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