with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions
It’s been funny old weather lately. It started off windy and showery, we had a break so we got a bit of silage off and now it’s windy and raining again. Maybe it’s the start of the equinox winds, as they are forecast to come early and last longer.
I’m told farmers are welcoming the rain – they could do with a drop or two. It doesn’t take long in the Bay of Plenty for things to swing around.
While daytime temperatures are good, soil temperatures still aren’t great. We’re tracking between 11.5-13.5 degrees Celsius. You normally plant maize when the soil temperature reaches 14 degrees Celsius upwards. By September 25 we’ve usually started but we haven’t planted any yet.
There are changes are coming thick and fast for the dairy industry with recent government announcements and things will be challenging going forward.
It seems like the banks are certainly putting a lot of pressure on farmers as most of their debt is in the rural sector. The interest rates being so low and talk of zero or sliding interest rates may be fueling this. They are probably trying to claw back some cash and are reminding farmers not to commit to things this early and to keep costs down and repay debt. This doesn’t help maize growers plan how much or how little they plant, leading to possible shortages if weather turns dry later in the season. However, if you want to borrow money to buy a kiwifruit orchard, you can certainly do that!
Cheap feed warning
In terms of purchasing feed, some farmers are trying cheaper alternatives. I signal this because there are different feeds. In my opinion, preference should be for high starch feed, like maize silage, that’s good for milking cows on, fully feed them in spring prior to mating and put condition on the cow’s back in autumn so they extend lactation.
They say the condition of cows at dry-off is normally the condition they calve in; and if cows don’t calve in good condition you’re in trouble. They may not cycle as well and the following year you may pay with low conception rates, an extended calving period and reduced production. So saving a dollar today might cost you $2 tomorrow.
Also, the guys growing high quality feeds and not getting interest may back off their supply – then when the farmer needs it, it won’t be there.
I’ve heard of people who’ve been winter cropping that are not intending to do it again next season, with the issues highlighted around the practice of intensive winter grazing down south this year. It’s that high yield of crop and high concentrations of cows on a small area causing issues – and they don’t want association to that. They’re not only concerned about erosion but also nutrient leaching.
The late autumn-winter period is the danger of high nitrate leaching, called the piddle patch. I’m told the equivalent of up to 1000kg of nitrogen/ha can be reached in one cow piddle. It’s not about spreading nitrogen on the paddock, it’s about this piddle test.
At other times of year the ground is dry enough and plants can uptake most of the nitrogen, and it won’t leach too quickly. But during late-autumn and winter plants don’t take it up so well and soil is being saturated.
The solution may lie in cow homes or emulsion pads, with effluent spread out later on. This infrastructure is expensive but it’s good for the environment so it’s a rock and hard place situation. Farmers need to be able to make money because it’s the backbone of our country and so many related industries and workers rely on them, but we don’t want to be ruining the planet.
Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunburg, who started the now-worldwide student climate strike, will certainly make people start to think about environmental issues. Greta figures her generation have a lot to lose, and that’s clearly struck a chord worldwide given the reaction to her stance.
The recently-proposed freshwater management policies will be weighing heavily on farmers’ minds. What I want to mention is farmers want to be seen as part of the solution, not the cause. Many have created wetlands, fenced off waterways and are watching water quantities irrigated and managing fertiliser applications. Farmers want to comply and work to benefit the environment, but if the bar is pushed too high it could be detrimental to the industry as it will stifle the incentive to act. We just have to keep focused and work together to achieve a clean and green environment, which is what we market and sell our produce on.
We’re all ready for a great season and have bulk and baled grass silage available, and hay and straw. We’re taking orders now for next year’s maize silage and advise you to get in early to ensure you don’t miss out! Most maize silage is grown to order due to high costs to establish it and the risk of not selling it.