Analyst Intel

13 August 2019

RURAL ROUND UP | A patchy winter arrives


The Far North’s been cloudy and there was fog in low spots on Friday morning. It’s been mild with the temperature hovering around 16C or 17C. Grass growth through late July was very slow but it’s picking up again. Wet areas are a wee bit slushy for the first time this year but soils below the surface are generally still firm. The spread of the rain’s been good.

Pukekohe and its veggie growing area have had brief fine periods and squally, heavy showers with scattered  hail. The outlook remains similar, which means the existing surface water might not dry up quickly. Volumes of some green vegetables have dropped.

It’s been hosing down on and off in Waikato where farmers are heads down, tails up with calving. It’s about half to two-thirds through.

Rain in Bay of Plenty has been interrupting pruning on kiwifruit orchards. On our contact’s 750-cow dairy farm 35 calves were born on Thursday, 45 the day before and 35 the day before that so they are coming thick and fast. There’s lots of grass in front of their mums.

Grass is bolting in the southern King country, which is unusual for this time of year and a bit unnerving. It’s turning a bit muddy. Like elsewhere dairy farmers are working long hours with calving. Sheep  farmers are vaccinating and set stocking sheep. That’s when they assess how much feed there is in a paddock and stock it accordingly for lambing. The farmer we speak to says even though interest rates are at record lows and prices at a high, farmers are really down. She’s been involved with farming politics for 20 years and says third generation farmers are telling her they don’t want their grandkids to go into farming because of the changes they see coming with climate change. They fear the future will require them to significantly reduce stock numbers and they’re also worried about the push against animal proteins.

It’s been a bit wet underfoot in Taranaki where calving is in full swing. Most farmers have good pasture cover and calving is going pretty well with cows coming in quicker than normal. Despite everything on the farm being good, our contact says farmers are feeling under attack from all angles and that’s adding to stress levels.

It’s been a kind winter with reasonably mild weather so far on the East Coast. It’s unseasonably dry but not dangerously so. Lambing’s under way in great conditions in the middle country. Lamb prices are getting up to the peak of last year. There’s still concern about good pastoral farms being planted in pine trees, whereas before it was more marginal land that was planted. A farmer we speak to says the harvest of trees planted 30 years ago to control erosion has caused  wear and tear on the roads and whole communities have shut up shop and it’s a worry lessons haven’t been learned from that.

Farmers in the Wairoa area have been basking in the sunshine and it feels like spring has arrived. Maize farmers are cultivating as fast as they can to take advantage of the weather. The dropping maize price is concerning though. It’s fetching $20 to $30 a tonne less than normal.

It’s been a smooth winter so far for sheep and beef farmers in Hawke’s Bay but last week’s cooler temperatures have had the farmers sitting up a bit, starting to notice feed is becoming a little short with crops coming to an end. Farmers want a little rain. Lambing is under way in nice, dry conditions. Everyone’s happy with store lamb prices and there have been record-breaking prices of $4.30 to $4.50 a kilo.

The down country in Manawatu and Rangitikei has had a dream run despite a little bit of wet and cold recently. But it’s a different story in the hill country where colder weather has seen the feed situation go from comfortable to a little concerning. Lambing in the hill country starts at the beginning of September. 

Wairarapa sheep and beef farmers are pretty happy and the farmer we spoke to says they have more grass than they normally have in August and the feed is as good as it’s ever been. Ewes are just about to be set stocked and lambing begins in about 10 days.


There’s a skiff of snow on the tops of western and eastern hills in the Nelson and Motueka areas. Some light frosts on the plains have firmed the ground, making it easier for planting and pruning. A grower near Rabbit Island says now that he’s packed this year’s fruit for the local market he can get back into the orchard to finish pear and apple pruning. He’s also got work to do on his commercial peony crop including weed spraying, planting new variety bulbs and dividing existing plants. 

Hill country farmers in Marlborough are set stocking for lambing. Our contact near Blenheim has seven singles to a hectare and half that for the twin-bearing ewes. The land was closed off for eight weeks and groomed by cattle. Even though soil temperatures have dropped to 4.5C this week feed covers are the best he’s ever seen. In vineyards the end of pruning and wrapping is in sight.

On the West Coast 50mm of snow blanketed a farm at Rotomanu Sunday week ago. It hadn’t snowed there since 2012. The farmer says it didn’t affect his dairy herd too much because the cows have barns to go into to keep warm and dry. Since then calving has kicked off and the first of the colostrum was heading off on Friday. Colostrum has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties and can be used in products that support immune and gastrointestinal systems as well as in nutritional and sports formulations.

It’s been a great week weather-wise in Canterbury with some northwesterlies to dry things out after being very wet. Lambs are appearing around the district and calving is in full swing on dairy farms. With improved ground conditions, cultivation and sowing of spring crops such as barley and wheat has begun. 

Half-bred shearing is under way in Central Otago. Crossbreds have already been shorn while the Merinos are keeping their coats for a wee while longer. Scanning-wise, pregnancy percentages are good for mixed-age ewes but results for two-tooths are back a bit on last year. There’s a good cover of snow on mountains and more is expected to fall this weekend.

A snow storm in Southland a week ago was tough on animals. A dairy farmer at Edendale says he lost 12 calves in the cold and there are reports of ewe losses on nearby sheep farms as well. The snow was followed by 75mm of rain so conditions are muddy underfoot. The farmer is about 25% through calving and he’s out every two hours night and day checking on cows and calves.