Farmer Focus: Lockdown followed by once-a-century drought

Here in New Zealand we have moved out of lockdown to a set of restrictions where most workplaces can operate, albeit with separation requirements, restaurants and bars can open and the schools have resumed teaching.

Obviously our borders are closed and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Our economy, like so many around the world has taken a massive hit, more so than many due to our reliance on international tourism. It had become popular urban myth that tourism was going to replace agriculture in this fair land, but that idea seems to have been shelved for a while.

So for us, focus on farm is essential, do what we do, and do it well. I am nervous as to what the future will hold for commodity markets, tightening credit, a lack of consumer spend and a more inward view to trade by countries across the world.

See also: Gout fly spotted in spring wheat crops

We have been very dry here at Valetta since late March, or to be precise, very dry since the day I put the combine away! At 170mm to date with an annual average of 825mm, we are significantly behind.

Last week we had swede crops beginning to wilt, which is unheard of for the start of our winter and made me very reluctant to start irrigating these crops.

We are reasonably well placed for winter feed, but it will be tight across the province. The south of the South Island had devastating floods and a prolonged wet spring/summer, while north of us and most of the North Island are suffering from what is becoming a once-in-a-entury drought.

These opposite climatic conditions have meant that feed is exceptionally tight right across New Zealand.

We routinely market throughout the country from here, and this year we have had grass seed and cereal straw being transported to most areas in the North Island. This was a task made very difficult by the lockdown we have been living through for the past eight weeks.

One thing is for sure, this is not the year for a big snowfall. That is one pothole we don’t need right now!     

David Clark runs a 463ha fully irrigated mixed farm with his wife Jayne at Valetta, on New Zealand’s South Island. He grows 400ha of cereals, pulses, forage and vegetable seed crops, runs 1,000 Romney ewes and finishes 8,000 lambs annually.

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