The big “C” and “D” – Noldy Rust

I’m not going to mention the “C” word at all as I strive to focus on something other than what has been on the minds of most New Zealanders for the past 4 or so weeks. Today is the 21st day of lockdown and once again I extol the virtues of being a person of the land, although these days for me this is a bit of a dubious title as I pursue other interests and pastimes!

I will have to mention the “D” word though, as for many of us farmers this has also been a massive deal and a very big impact on our farming business since January. In January when I wrote my last blog, I stated that it was getting dry and how we hoped for rain very soon. In JANUARY! Where are we now? Mid-April and still wanting more moisture! Not wanting to sound ungrateful, we have had a few rain events in the last 3 weeks, but crikey, they’ve truly all just been ‘a good start’! I think this year was particularly bad as rainfall in general has been below average for months now, so soil moisture levels were low going into summer. The positive earlier on was that in most cases there were good levels of supplementary feed on hand, so as we worked through February, supplements were used to push the round out and keep the cows fed until early March when we were sure that the rains would have come….This wasn’t the case for most of us and the rest is history. However, we have been in this situation many times, I’m sure most farmers can talk about the droughts of the past, the 08/09 one being the precursor to many more of varying severity over the past 10 odd years. To sum up this season, I would simply state that it’s been an expensive second half with such a prolonged period of low growth rates. So much extra feed needed to be sourced once the allocation for summer had run out. The generally favourable PKE market was tight also, meaning that returns on feeding this were diminished to a point also. However, the payout is more positive than in recent times, and the spring/early summer period was pleasant and favourable for most of us.

So, what has everyone done to manage the big dry? I guess we always have options, some more unpalatable than others, as we try to maximise our milk leaving the gate and still make money in the process. For us it was pretty clear. Extend the round and chew the farm out to minimise any rot down once it rained. Then avoid overgrazing by feeding most of the diet as supplements and holding cows on a sacrifice paddock, usually next year’s maize paddock or one earmarked for undersowing. De-stocking has to fit in there somewhere, reduce the demand and look after the animals that will be on farm next season. Our culls have all gone now, which is earlier than usual, but was the right thing to do in a year like this. The final steps for us included drying off the lighter cows, to ensure we hit condition score targets by June 1st, and regularly updating the feed budget to monitor when we need to dry off the balance of the herd. This is the last option, and final big decision to make, as we look for an outcome of condition score 4.5 plus and a cover of 2200 kg/DM/ha minimum at June 1st, whilst also making sure we optimise our profit this season.

The lower lying paddocks have bounced back now and are starting to thicken up and show promising signs of growth. However, the higher, rolling paddocks have taken a real hammering resulting in undersowing being a very good option for these. We will have to manage these paddocks carefully as we try and control the weeds that will undoubtedly try and smother out the new seedlings. I thought we’d done all the undersowing we had to do, but unfortunately, as we were spreading DAP the other day, I found some more paddocks that are more open than I wanted, so it seems I’ll need to go get some more seed and call my friendly drill man once more to just come and do a bit more. All this undersowing is another cost we’d rather not have, but having paddocks that grow weeds and summer grass is certainly not a good option for the coming season. We simply can’t afford NOT to undersow in my opinion, as long as we do it right and nurture these paddocks as the new shoots get established. Thank goodness that Farmsource and contractors are essential services!

I must say that there are some short-term benefits of lockdown as is evident by the number of chores that I’ve managed to cross off the ‘to do’ list! Realistically, I thought the ‘to do’ list would never get attended to, but alas, I ran out of excuses and somewhat reluctantly have ticked some off. When I say reluctantly, I found that it’s like so many things, once you set your mind to the task and get started, it’s not actually too bad and the outcome can be very rewarding. The absence of rugby on TV, cafes and pubs closed, and an energetic and willing 16-year-old at home, have also added some impetus and motivation towards the completion of these tasks! Bev always says the same with doing the vacuuming and the ironing. The vacuuming itself is not the issue, it’s getting the vacuum cleaner out, unwinding the cord and plugging it in that’s the issue. Same with the ironing. It’s getting started that’s the problem. Being the helpful and caring bloke that I am, I have made it my mission to be more helpful so have started setting these up for her every few days. Me being more helpful and caring is another positive outcome of the lockdown….Bev is often quite speechless at my thoughtfulness and willingness to help….

Sam is busy getting those annual jobs done prior to winter. Checking the power on the fences, dirt around troughs, finishing spraying the gorse and the drains etc. We’ve put DAP on the bulk of the farm now and just have a small area left to do. Hopefully this will boost our growth rates, with all the lovely warm rain we’re anticipating over the next few days…. What about ProGibb? Is anyone utilising this as an option right now to help reach their target cover by June 1st? I think winter grazing may be scarce and there certainly won’t be much feed around for purchase.

Just as I close and head off to set up the vacuum cleaner for the day, I’m wondering what impact the ‘C’ word (that I’m not mentioning) will have on our industry post lockdown and into the new season. The whole world is in a bit of a pickle. What will PKE availability be like, will ships be regularly available? Will other essential things, like tractor parts, minerals, penicillin, iPhones and toilet paper be readily available or will there be a wait? If so, how long for?? There is much that is unknown going forward. DairyNZ is working on our behalf to look into many of these things to try and help us prepare as an industry in order to minimise any disruption. Ag is very much at the leading edge of the economic recovery…. feels kinda good doesn’t it!? If any of you have any concerns or thoughts as to what some areas of concern may be, get in touch with DairyNZ or visit their website. They have a site there regarding the ‘C’ word and there’s valuable info there for all of us to peruse. Can’t find anything on there about toilet paper though, fortunately we still get the ‘Waikato Times’ delivered daily and that is valuable in many ways….

Take care, get into that ‘to do’ list, if you haven’t already done so, I promise, it’s well worth it!

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