The weather has always been reliably unreliable – but at least its overall patterns have until now, been reasonably predictable. Given what we’ve experienced so far this year it appears we now need to prepare for the unexpected all the time.
Three cyclones in two months created havoc for farmers, growers and urban residents and also revealed the vulnerability of our flood control systems.
The devastation of the Edgecumbe township is the extreme example of what went wrong, but many farmers and growers, including our own business, suffered floods.
It appears councils and authorities may have been lulled into compliancy in recent years because we haven’t had these extreme weather events, so routine maintenance of drains looks like it’s slipped. This means when we get a flood, drains either can’t cope, or are so full of weeds and debris, they restrict outlets and block up screens so pumps can’t operate effectively.
These responsible for the infrastructure, including drains, culverts and bridges, designed to handle floods, and as much as possible, protect homes, farms and crops, need to re-think their maintenance programmes in the face of the weird weather which looks like becoming the norm.
Where it falls
There needs to be an understanding that it’s often not so much the volume of rain which falls, but where it falls, which impacts on the infrastructure that has to handle it.
Farmers are telling me they’ve already had two-thirds of their normal annual rainfall by May. During the last four years the average has been 1250ml during a 12-month period. The average during the last four years from January-May has been 420ml. So far this year we’ve had a rainfall of 990ml, that’s more than double the previous years.
We were luckier than some contractors as we did manage to get our maize off before Cyclone Cook arrived but re-sowing the pasture in grass was a major headache.
Springs appeared in paddocks prone to being a dust nuisance in the past and we spent five days with a digger, creating drains to re-direct water and tapping into springs, and five days with tractors trying to tidy up and level the paddocks before getting grass seed in. Out of our last 27 hectares we finally managed to get 26.5ha sown but we were up to three weeks late and are hoping pasture will be established in time for grazers to arrive.
Farmers will be facing the same issues with many undersowing paddocks, including these which were flooded. They will need to manage new pasture carefully and feed supplements to get through. Having said that, unlike last season, there’s not a lot of surplus supplementary feed around.
Many farmers have dried off cows and can probably cope but they will be worried about spring growth if these wet conditions continue.
Once again, the farming community came together to help those badly affected by the floods, particularly in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and we helped where we could, putting those who needed feed in touch with those offering to donate it. Offers came from both local farmers and lifestylers as far afield as Manawatu to Northland.
Weird though it is, the weather has to turn colder soon which will impact on grass growth. Due to the heavy rain we’ve been testing the soil in our paddocks to see what nutrients and trace elements may have leached. With an event like heavy rainfall, normally nitrogen and sulphur easily dissipate through the soil away from the grass roots.
We found our sulphur levels to be good but the nitrogen levels were low. We’ve spread a mix of urea, which contains instant release nitrogen, and also a slow release polymer-coated nitrogen, which delays the availability of nitrogen for plant uptake for about 90 days.
During the trials I conducted on the polymer-coated urea up to five years ago, it did indeed show was slow releasing and in fact it actually lasted more than the 90 days suggested. These results could have been due to lower rainfalls at the time of the trials. It is a bit more expensive but more suited to heavy rainfall events. But it may be worth contacting and discussing this with your local fertiliser rep.
Cold wet conditions are also ideal for many pests and diseases so farmers need to be vigilant and take action quickly if anything nasty appears in their crops or pasture.
We can only hope for a ‘normal’ winter and a kind spring and summer.
We currently have good quality feed available in stock. We have barley straw, rye grass, wheat, meadow hay and silage bales. Please feel free to call us on 07 5331922 and let us know how we can help you.