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Early summer prompts call for farm plan

Early summer prompts call for farm plan

A very wet spring followed by a hot, dry start to summer has put pressure on summer feed supply for dairy farmers in some parts of the country.

Data shows current soil conditions are drier than normal, particularly parts of Northland, Taranaki, Lower North Island and Southland.

With the unusual start to summer, DairyNZ extension general manager Andrew Reid is encouraging dairy farmers to have a plan in case dry conditions continue.

“It’s apparent that in many regions silage yields are down and summer crops have been sown late,” says Andrew.

“Farmers always factor variable weather into their seasonal plans, so many, if not all, across the country will be pretty well prepared for the conditions we’re experiencing.

“However, it is timely to revisit the summer plan and talk through different scenarios with the farm team. For example, supplementary feed usage, culling policies, once-a-day milking, irrigation priorities and what the target dates and trigger points for dry-off decisions are.

“It’s easier to have these in place now rather than trying to work through them during a stressful dry period.

“Dairy farmers will be monitoring the condition of their cows – and their feed supply. For many, winter and spring pasture damage and subsequent weed burdens may mean changing expectations about how these pastures will perform over summer.”

Many of DairyNZ’s Tiller Talk farmers, who are working to improve their pasture management and are sharing their progress online, talk about how they are responding to dry conditions. Many are extending rotation length and some farmers have started 16-hour milking intervals.

To see their updates – including average pasture growth rates, pasture cover and rotation lengths, visit For guidance on how to prepare for summer weather, or to check your options, visit

Around the regions:

“We have farmers who have experienced their best spring ever and others with the complete opposite. Northland summers do get extended dry spells and regardless of the wet winter, preparation for management of dry is recommended,” says DairyNZ Northland regional leader Chris Neill.

Waikato and Bay of Plenty
A very wet winter and spring has had an impact on many parts of Waikato.

“Pasture is open after pugging damage, quantity of silage harvested is down and in many cases crops haven’t been planted or were planted two to three weeks late,” says DairyNZ North Waikato regional leader Phil Irvine.

“With PKE $80-$90/t more expensive than this time last year, it’s important to start thinking about targets and options if the summer is a dry one. Having said that, there has been a lot of late maize planted on non-dairy land.”

“The Taranaki region has been through one of the wettest winters for many seasons. This has been compounded by a spring that was colder than usual, which in turn impacted on normally reliable growth rates,” says Simon Sankey, acting DairyNZ regional leader for Taranaki.

“This has meant less silage than usual and summer crops have gone in later than normal. The last month has seen a total reversal in ground conditions with hot weather and limited rain in the region.

“Farmers are already making decisions in response to the dry and we urge them to continue to make these decisions and regularly assess their situation.

“Because supplement on-hand is lower on-farm than usual, this will impact on the remainder of the season and it is a reminder for farmers to not only look at a summer management plan but also consider feed requirements in autumn.”

Lower North Island
“Generally, on the west coast – Manawatu, Rangitikei and Horowhenua – soil moisture is 40mm below normal for this time of the year. On the east coast – Wairarapa and Tararua – soil moisture is 30mm below normal,” says DairyNZ Lower North Island regional leader James Muwunganirwa.

“This is on the back of a very wet spring during which farmers struggled with pugging damage, poor pasture utilisation and having to use a lot of supplement. As a result, pasture covers are very low, there is little supplement on-hand and crops were up to four weeks late going into the ground.

“Irrigation restrictions have also started in the Wairarapa.”

Top of the South Island and West Coast
“Pugging damage and more open pasture from a wet winter/spring has accentuated the impact of sudden rise in temperatures and dry conditions,” says DairyNZ regional leader for Top of the South Island and West Coast, Wade Bell.

“Most areas within the region are experiencing similar levels of soil moisture deficit, so the impact is widespread.

“Acting early in response to current conditions is important, which could include changing the milking frequency, early pregnancy testing and culling, introducing supplementary feed and timely applications of nitrogen if weather permits. Keep in contact with others to discuss plans for a summer dry.”

Canterbury/North Otago
“While it was a wet start to the milking season, high temperatures and lack of rain mean it’s now drying out,” says DairyNZ Canterbury/North Otago regional leader Virginia Serra.

“Dairy farmers will be monitoring the condition of their cows – and their feed supply, and thanks to a period of good grass growth, there’s been a decent amount of silage harvested in the region in recent weeks.

“What will this summer bring? If it’s a dry one, it will be challenging for dry land farmers, which for dairy are mainly support farms. The irrigated farms need to continue to ensure efficient use of water, something farmers are well across these days.”

South Otago
“In South Otago some areas, especially the Taieri where there has been spring pasture damage from the floods, you may need to use supplement to extend round length. Continue to focus on residuals and identify any culls early to reduce pasture demand,” says Richard.

“After a great spring we are seeing an early dry spell start to challenge feed supply,” says DairyNZ regional leader for Southland/South Otago, Richard Kyte.

“Extending your round, if you are in a position to do so, is an option to maintain cover going into summer as growth rates drop.

“Reassess potential surpluses and use these to extend the rotation. If using supplement, focus on achieving target residuals to maintain quality going forward.”


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