Farmer Focus: Harvest done – time to be a sheep farmer again

Thankfully, we completed harvest during the second week of April, finishing with a radish crop in what was, ironically, ideal harvesting conditions with a dry Norwest wind.

It was like a tantalising tempter to remind us that harvest should be enjoyable. What I would have done for a week of Norwest back in February, when we were seeing week after week of damaging rains.

See also: Wheat growers advised to order top yielder as supplies tight

About the author

David Clark
Farmer Focus writer
David Clark runs a 463ha fully irrigated mixed farm with his wife Jayne at Valetta, on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand’s south island. He grows 400ha of cereals, pulses, forage and vegetable seed crops, runs 1,000 Romney breeding ewes and finishes 8,000 lambs annually.
Read more articles by David Clark

Fortunately, we were up to date with the post-harvest cultivations and all herbage seed crops are sown. We cracked on straight away with working wheat ground and should have all the tractors tucked away for the winter in a fortnight.

That lets us change focus to the winter lamb programme, with truckloads arriving from the Southland. The beautiful lambs are in good order, but are unable to be finished on the breeding farms due to unusually dry conditions south of here.

Market expectations are looking very sound, and we should be able to turn a fair margin, even though our cost of feed grown has increased.

At this stage we are aiming for NZ$0.48-0.50/kg (25-26p/kg) of dry matter eaten. That is better than we can do grazing dry dairy cows, with less soil structure damage, but much more labour input into the lambs.

As with everyone, our costs are increasing exponentially. We did our gross margin comparisons to select crop options and it is sobering. Some of the crops that we have always looked on as marginal – peas, vegetable brassica seed crops, white clover – now look poorly.

If the aim is to make the boat go faster, some crops now look like they are a hole in the hull.  

This has led to some very difficult conversations with seed companies we have grown the same crops for since we came to Canterbury in 1994.

Unless our cost structures suddenly reduce, the cost of food production has significantly increased and therefore the cost of food to the consumer will have to increase to a similar extent.

That is going to come as a shock to the consumer and to society.

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