Cashflow drying up
With milk production down in the Waikato region, farmers are looking to offset their losses, Ali Tocker reports.
The dry weather so far is set to lop at least $40 million off Waikato dairy farmers’ income this season, and animal numbers are starting to build up at the works as farmers take more stock to be killed.
Key groups, including Waikato Regional Council, Federated Farmers, the Rural Support Trust and the Ministry for Primary Industries, will meet to discuss actions if the dry weather persists.
DairyNZ senior economist Matthew Newman said milk production in the Waikato region for the month to date was 15 per cent down on the same time last season, equivalent to $40m less revenue for dairy farmers in the wider Waikato region than last year.
‘‘The dry conditions are now having a major impact and, without rain, production will continue dropping further.’’
DairyNZ is giving weekly advice to North Island farmers through an electronic newsletter and discussion groups on how to cope with the dry conditions.
Meanwhile, meatworks in the Waikato report receiving higher levels of stock because of the dry weather. All say they have the capacity to manage the numbers, and are used to being busy this time of year.
Affco operations manager Rowan Ogg said that though more stock was coming in because of the dry weather, including bulls, sheep and lambs, not all farmers were affected to the same extent.
Greenlea Premier Meats managing director Tony Egan said the company was ‘‘very busy’’ with more cows because of the dry weather. It was working with Wilson Hellaby in Auckland to process any overflow. Silver Fern Farms Waikato hub manager Jason Graham said the company was busy, mostly with dairy cows.
‘‘But at this stage we would define it as manageable – with a little bit of flexibility with some of our farmer suppliers. We’re obviously working very hard to make sure we process the animals as soon as we can.’’
Federated Farmers Waikato president James Houghton is encouraging farmers to take cull cows and excess stock straight to the works, saving the animals a second stressful journey to the works after a hot day in the saleyard pens.
But PGG Wrightson livestock representative Neil Lyons said he expected the works would be ‘‘chocka’’ soon, and taking the animals straight to the works could put its own stress on the animals.
‘‘It’s better to sell stock at the saleyards so people can take them away and feed them till they get in at the works . . . channelling everything through the works would create a huge backlog at the works, so the saleyards is a very good option.’’
Lyons said it was ‘‘very, very’’ dry in the Waikato, but ‘‘patchy’’.
‘‘Some places are not too bad but in other places it’s really, really dry. The drier areas are around Te Aroha, Morrinsville, Thames Valley and up to Te Kauwhata – right through the base of the Waikato.
‘‘Obviously supplementary feed is being fed out, and people are surviving in anticipation it’s going to rain at some stage. But when is anybody’s guess.’’
The main issues challenging farmers now related to stock husbandry and welfare.
Lyons said any farmers who were really struggling were encouraged to seek help from fellow farmers, advisers or the Rural Support Trust.
‘‘There are people who will help. We’re all out there trying to help where we can.’’
Federated Farmers Waikato grain and seed chairman John Hodge said some herds in the Waikato had cut back to once-aday milking because of the dry weather.
He urged dairy farmers to consider buying maize silage, because it was an excellent feed for keeping condition on cows that were short of pasture.
Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley said he intended meeting over the next week or so with key stakeholders to discuss how they will work together if the weather persists.
‘‘Conserving water does remain important and we’d urge farmers to check for water leaks to minimise wastage. Those farmers with irrigation should also check their consent conditions to ensure they are operating as allowed,’’ Buckley said.
Council resource information team spokesman Dr Ed Brown said Waikato soils were 30 millimetres to 50mm drier than normal for this time of year, based on Niwa data.
MetService forecasting for the next seven to 10 days suggested it would continue to be dry in the Waikato, with little relief.
Niwa had expected that in February till April rainfall would be near normal, but that has so far not been the case this month, with little to no rain for most parts of the Waikato.
Rain needed: Dry conditions continue across the Waikato region.