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Big dry . . . Drought conditions are biting Canterbury with Banks Peninsula among the driest areas, Photo: supplied

By DAVID HILL

North Canterbury farmers are being advised to prepare for the worst as dry conditions continue to bite.

Support is available, but farmers need to be proactive in seeking advice and ensuring they have plenty of feed heading into winter, Canterbury Rural Advisory Group chairman Winton Dalley says.

“We are trying not to panic anybody, but we are being proactive in getting reminders out to people of what they can do and what they should do.

“The key message is to be prepared, to get advice and to make sure you’ve got plenty of feed on hand.

“Most of the region has had a reasonably good growing season so there is feed around, but some areas don’t have surpluses, so identify your feed sources now.”

The region north of the Rakaia river is already subject to a large-scale drought classification until June 30, but support is also available for farmers south of the river.

“It definitely needs to be extended beyond June 30,” Mr Dalley says.

The advisory group is collaborating with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), rural support trusts, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ to monitor conditions and offer support to farmers, he says.

Calf sales have been sluggish as dry conditions hit farmer confidence.

Rural Livestock Canterbury livestock manager Donald Cooke and PGG Wrightson stock agent Kevin Rowe report strong prices for steers, while lighter weight calves and heifers have been “hard work” to sell.

“They’re all finding a value and homes, but we’re having to work harder to do that,” Mr Cooke says.

Steer calves have been selling for $3 to $3.20 a kilogram, but other stock have been nearer $2.

“North Canterbury has feed on hand, even if there’s not much grass on the ground,” Mr Rowe says. “I think we’ve been pretty lucky in North Canterbury, although we don’t like it to be this dry in the autumn.”

Heifer calves traditionally sold to farmers in Ellesmere and Banks Peninsula, but these were the driest areas.

Transport was also causing a headache, with fewer Cook Strait ferry crossings because of Covid-19.

With bull sales set for the end of May, Mr Cooke is optimistic of a successful season. The long-term outlook is positive, despite the dry conditions, Covid-19 and issues of space at the freezing works and transport, he says.

“It’s a hard one to predict, but I expect a strong bull sale season. Good genetics always bring a premium, but when we’re getting towards the end of the catalogue they might be a bit harder to sell.”

Federated Farmers North Canterbury meat and wool chairman Daniel Maxwell says time is running out to break the drought on his Cheviot farm before winter.

“If we could get a decent rain now we’ve got time to get some growth before winter sets in.”

With no rain in sight, he is already feeding out more supplements, has sold his store lambs and some calves, and will not mate his ewe hoggets this year.

“Most farmers have some trigger points and dates, where they will take action to mitigate the conditions, so the key thing is to have a plan.”

  • Assistance available: The government’s drought declaration means North Canterbury farmers can seek extra financial help through the Ministry of Social Development. Tax relief is available for some through Inland Revenue.
    A free feed planning and co-ordination service is being offered by the Ministry for
    Primary Industries to help farmers develop feed budgets and connect with sources of
    feed, such as silage and hay.
    To contact the feed planning service, phone 0800 BeefLamb (0800 233352) or
    0800 4 DairyNZ (0800 43247969).