Mild weather and preparing for maize

with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions

Lately, the weather has been a mixed bag. A bit cold, fine, wet and dry. We’re still behind in rainfall; so far we’ve only seen two-thirds of our usual rainfall for the year. I drove around some swamp paddocks recently and didn’t need to use 4WD, which is unusual for this time of year.

For August water tables are low and some drains don’t have any water in them. That’s unusual too. Weather forecasters talk of a possible change to a La Nina pattern then back to neutral; that would bring a wet spring-early summer then would turn dry again. If we don’t get a La Nina, we’re in for another dry summer.


It’s certainly drier out there than normal for this time of year and it’s milder too. People are talking about plants sprouting and buds shooting on vines early. And while it may be tempting to plant maize early you always have the risk of a late frost. That would knock tops of the maize; it could still possibly grow through it, but the plant wouldn’t yield as well.

We’ll monitor to see if we plant maize early but we’ve still got to get grass off paddocks yet. While August has been a good month, sometimes September can have a sting in its tail.

In saying that I went through Thames/Hauraki Plains early-August and saw silage stacks being made, which is very unseasonal. So this not-so-wet winter has not done much pasture damage and regrowth looks to be good. Being dry, farmers have enjoyed a dry calving, which makes a huge difference to animal welfare and has benefits for farmers themselves.

There’s still some enquiries for feed, and a small shortage of grass around in some areas. We’ll gear up to plant maize by spraying out early-September. It comes around quick, so everyone needs to select paddocks for on-farm maize and crops if they haven’t already. In autumn they should have sprayed them out and put in annuals. If not, they need to prepare now. Paddocks that haven’t done well in winter or sacrifice paddocks should be targeted as maize is good at soaking up nitrogen, utilizing the nutrients and it does on effluent paddocks too. Get chicory or turnips in early in sacrifice or other paddocks selected so they can establish before it turns dry, or whatever weather eventuates.

I’ve had a few calls from farmers with pukekos picking holes in silage stack covers, causing damage and wastage. You can put shade cloth over tyres to stop them. I suggest doing this before wastage occurs.

Contractor staff shortage

There’s talk about many contractors relying on overseas staff for the cropping season, which they currently cannot get into NZ. We’ve got in overseas staff for contracting in the past but no longer do so. I know of many who do rely on these staff for cropping, which begins September.

Hopefully people returning to NZ from overseas will take up these vacancies; or those who’ve lost jobs through Covid. Maybe some have grown up on a farm or have rural experience – but you still need appropriate vehicle licences and training to drive this machinery.

We used to start off newcomers on smaller gear like mowers, rakes and wrappers, to see how they went as operators, and gave them training. Then they’d have to be signed off on health and safety requirements; you can’t just put people on machines and say: ‘Seeya later’. Drivers have to be capable and used to operating this equipment, which is high technology and worth a lot of money. Classroom training is good, but out in the field is where you gain experience; and experience comes with time.

I think the BOP will be okay for contracting staff because people like to live here; our lifestyle is a drawcard. It might be a struggle to attract people in marginal areas. Most contractors locally have the staff they need. But those who use international staff I’d imagine will be struggling to find experienced and qualified staff.

And as far as not getting crops in – it may not happen as quickly as before. So booking in and ordering early is crucial so contractors can plan their workloads better. I contracted staff from another company recently to get through my pressure point – they weren’t busy so it worked for all concerned.

Maybe we could farm staff out to the south if we start cropping earlier and get our workload done first? Sometimes contracting staff do go south if work runs thin up here but it depends on the season.


With Covid-19 community transmission in NZ, everyone needs to practise social distancing and track movements. Get visitors to fill out visitor books on-farm or have the QR code for them to scan.

Lastly, in an environmental court case in Winton fined a farming company and its manager more than $80,000 collectively for an effluent spill. The Judge said there was pressure on the farm’s effluent storage systems and the offending was unintentional but careless in a number of ways.

However, if you intentionally break out of a Covid-19 quarantine facility in NZ, you only get fined $4000 – despite the fact you could cost the country billions in containing an outbreak as well as businesses and the economy losing revenue due to lockdown restrictions and people staying home and spending less. You wonder where this balances out?

As always, we’re here to help with supplementary feed requirements – just give us a call and remember: proper planning prevents pitiful performance!


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