Farming through the lockdown – Graham Smith

Strange how life can be thrown a curve ball by a bug. We went from planning a holiday to hunkering down on the farm and making face masks!

The Waikato Times ran an article from the French Embassy about travellers stranded in NZ. We replied to their request for help and then received a large number of replies from French tourists. The first group to reply got our accommodation, and they needed it. They were a family of seven camping in the South Island. They managed to catch the last ferry during lockdown and were a bedraggled and weary lot when they arrived. They stayed for the next three weeks and we accepted them into our bubble. They were keen to work to offset costs and we did a lot of firewood that I was just making no progress on. Now this year’s supply is in the shed as well as some of next year’s. Their eldest son, aged 14, was into photography and he and Tess connected. Tess lent him a camera, gave him lessons and they compared notes. When he left, he had bought the camera and I am sure that they will continue to share photos. The eldest daughter, aged 12, was an early riser and she appeared at the shed every morning to help me milk. By the end of three weeks she was helping shift the stock and feeding the dogs and ducks, and any stock work, she was there. She wishes to come back and do a calving with me, but that is for the future. The three youngest, aged 8, 10, and 11, spent their days roaming the farm, having fun as kids do. It has been a long time since my kids did that, so it was great to see them enjoying the environment.

The French tourists: Aurelia, Ysee, Florian, Yris, Ylan, Yoen, and Yael.

Their parents were good company and Tess cooked them some great meals and in return they did French cooking for us. Of course, it made for great conversation around a glass of red wine. We made some good friends and have been invited to go and stay with them in the south of France. So, isolation has been enjoyable for us.

I dried the cows off on the 20th April, after a long slog juggling available feed. The paulownia prunings fed the cows for all of February and the silage was fed from the start of March to mid-April. Murphy’s Law says things go wrong when you can’t fix them. So, it was with the silage, when, with only four days of feeding left, the bearing collapsed in the wagon and I was unable to get it fixed because of lockdown. Luckily, my neighbour lent me his wagon and things got back into gear. We got some rain and then it was grass and PKE until dry off.

The season finished 14% behind last year and considering the move to OAD and the drought I have to be satisfied with that.

Currently, the cows are on an 84-day round on all grass. Average cover is 1850 kg DM/ha with growth rates at 50 kg DM/day. Condition score is about 4.8 on the cows. The heifers have been tagged and the next job is the rubberwear in the shed.

The yearlings have come through the drought in pretty good condition and it is good to be able to watch over them full time in a hard year like this. People are talking about the ’08 drought as a comparison, but I liken this to the ’77/’78 drought for harshness and length of time without rain. This drought is not quite as bad, but I certainly don’t want to see any worse!

One big job completed was pushing up and stacking all the prunings for burning, and there are some big heaps. One job for the future is to fence up the next planting strips as I have about 150 sapling paulownias to plant out. Planting will happen in June once the trees become dormant. This year only 150 to plant, but next year should be up to 500. I have started a new nursery which will supply the extra trees. Starting the new nursery was a big effort due to the drought making it difficult to establish cuttings. About 50% fried in the sun and I had to replant in April when it had cooled down. Even with irrigation the little plants struggled, but survival rates are better now. I had quite a few inquiries about planting seedlings, but few people had the right conditions to grow good trees for timber. A number of inquiries were for the ornamental types which are better sourced from commercial nurseries.

I planted 220 seedling macrocarpa in late spring and although I have released them twice there will be some grass and weed maintenance required to stop them being smothered. Also, some winter pruning will be needed for the black walnuts. Right now, I have a pruner in who has just finished giving the 6 year old pines their second lift, and is now lifting the eucalypts for the third time. I don’t look at this as an expense, but an investment for the future. I thought I could do some of that pruning myself, but there are only so many hours in the day, and to maintain the quality of the stand it needs to be done on time.

Demand for timber peaked during lockdown as people decided to build a surfboard while they had the time. Unfortunately, I was unable to supply for the very same reasons. So, frustration on both sides. At the time of writing I can now ship commercial quantities but the smaller lines I move are still restricted until Post Shop gets back into action. Still, it is good to be back in business and keeping the commercial guys supplied and their staff in jobs. Fortunately, I have plenty of timber in stock and in my drying stacks to keep everyone happy.

With tourism dying for the time being Tess and I are looking at renting our accommodation so that it gets some use. That will change the dynamics on the farm, and we will have to roll with that as it happens.

Tess has been unable to work so all her cooking skills have come to the fore. Jams, sauces, breads, and she is currently learning how to make sourdough. I, on the other hand, have to work hard to justify eating all that great tucker!!!

1 Comment

  • Hello Graham. Keen to get some Paulonia trees. Can you give me a call please.
    021 415 371.
    Michael

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