It’s getting dry out there…

with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions

We certainly haven’t had much rain – this year or in the last month or two.

In January we had 14mm, February brought 25mm and for March, as at the 20th we’d had 33mm. That’s total of 75mm in three months. We’d normally have about 40mm in January, 100mm in February and 70mm in March. 

So now, once cows have come off crop paddocks, everybody’s trying to resew or renovate pastures. We’ll need more follow-up rain to get these pastures established – and everyone is looking for a bit of rain to keep the cows milking. So it’s been a challenging.

Our maize harvest began and finished 10 days earlier, and while we had a few challenges with maize drying out prematurely we only had two trucks get stuck in paddocks. Usually it’s 220 trucks – so harvest flowed a lot better compared to the last few years where things were wet and miserable.

According to predictions the Southern Oscillation Figure 30-day Index is at 12.5 – and has identified four of the five required consecutive measurement conditions which satisfy El Nino conditions.

El Nino conditions

With a pulse of additional warming taking place at the end of March, we expect an El Nino to be officially announced. Climate scientists suggest a weak El Nino pattern will last until spring 2019 and may mean neutral or weak El Nino patterns continue or develop through the medium term. So maybe late-April we’ll see some rain but they’re not predicting a lot through until spring. But they’ve been wrong in the past!

The dry will impact on the payout as there’ll be less production than what was predicted. The previous seven Global Dairy Trade auctions were all up but the last one’s figures were neutral or slightly negative. The banks are starting to predict the forecast might be better than a $6.50kgMS plus dividends, and there is talk of $7kgMS next season. But this is a moving target that follows the supply-demand contour.

What to do

What can we do moving forward with climate change? There’s talk of trending drier conditions. We can irrigate but that draws a lot of water from our water tables, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Or do you look at alternative crops, like lucerne, turnips, maize or sorghum to soften that shortfall? I suggest farmers start looking at what they were doing a few years back when we were getting drier trends. The last few years have been great summer growing conditions and you can become a little complacent.

Look at crops to protect yourselves going forward, plus insects as well. The Army caterpillar and black beetle may appear once we get rain, coming out of the rougher stuff to enjoy something fresh to eat like new and existing pastures. So keep a vigilant eye out.

There’s talk of the dry moving further south from Northland. So there’s possibility people further south will get away with growing more tropical crops.

Key is getting your crops in early for next season so you can balance a potential feed deficit. Currently there’s surplus supplementary feed around – but get your orders in early before demand could strengthen. If you need to feed cows supplements you’d saved for later in autumn or winter, you may need to rethink your feed budgets as well. And farmers need to be getting autumn fertiliser on now too – don’t hold back on this or pasture renovation. Keep moving on with your planned processes, otherwise there’s a backlog as everyone wants fert on at once. Like I keep saying: Proper planning prevents pitiful performance.

We’ve still got hay and silage available, and a bit of maize, plus dairy grazing at this stage. Until next time.


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