Dairy farmers getting their applied nitrogen down to the proposed national 190kg/ha limit will take time, says Ashburton farm consultant Mark Everest.
General manager of extension, Craig McBeth, says DairyNZ is closely monitoring the soil moisture and feed levels in all regions in case it needs to quickly ramp up support for farmers.
Canterbury, North Otago and Wairarapa are already well on the radar but the soil moisture data is also showing the rest of the country is on the brink of heading into dryer than average soil moisture conditions.
“We need to see some rain soon to reduce the risk of a normal dry summer turning into something more serious,” he says.
“While we know it could get very dry, very fast, it’s a positive story in terms of feed supply. It’s pretty green out there on many farms because we had great grass growth in November and December and into January in some parts. Recently, it’s also been great growing conditions for maize.
“In most regions farmers have already made and stored a lot of supplementary feed like hay, grass silage and baleage. There’s no shortage of feed around at present on-farm or in storage, in most parts of the country. In Taranaki there’s probably a surplus of supplementary feed.” Southland farmers however struggled to grow and harvest surplus feed due to a wet late winter and spring.
“The good news is there will be plenty of feed to get farmers through dry conditions if we don’t get rain,” he says. “However, the issue may be a lack of cash around to pay for it if farmers have to buy it in or cover the cost of transporting the feed to where it is most needed. The low forecast milk price is already putting pressure on farmers’ budgets for this season.”
McBeth says farmers have learnt a lot through past droughts and have plenty of techniques for managing the supply of feed to their cows to keep up with the demands of keeping them in good condition.
“Keeping your cows in good condition isn’t just for milk production. It is also vital for ensuring they calve without any difficulty later in the year and have every chance of getting back in-calf next spring. Our dairy cows are in-calf now as well as milking,” he says.
He says DairyNZ is using its regional staff to monitor farming conditions, provide advice, and ensure experienced farmers can pass on advice and tips to others who may be new to farming or to a region.
Farm system specialists are also monitoring conditions closely to help inform farmers.
“There is plenty of industry and farmer support out there to help everyone. It’s important farmers know that – and where to go for advice. Our ‘Tactics for Tight Times’ campaign to help farmers cope with a low payout is also going to be focused on all the issues that farmers might have to deal with including summer dry conditions and extra feed costs.”