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Informed, proactive decisions during drought will pay off


For Immediate Release

13 June 2013

Informed, proactive decision making during drought will pay off

Cutting cattle numbers by a total of 59 percent and sheep by 30 percent by March during this season’s big dry may seem brutal, but it was a proactive decision based on sound figures, which has given Paul Dearden confidence heading into winter and lambing.

The Waipukurau sheep and beef farmer says regularly monitoring the situation and making timely decisions based on accurate figures was crucial in trying to minimise the cost of the drought to his farming business.

“Like others in drought regions, our challenge was to identify when to de-stock and by how many in order to preserve the health of our animals and look after the pasture we did have. More recently, we needed to get the timing of our Urea application right and make the most of the good rainfall.

Paul farms on 770 effective hectares. Pasture growth dropped by a third from October to December 2012, before slowing to 50 per cent between February and April 2013. At its lowest, in March, pasture cover was only 1360 kgDM/ha, well below Paul’s target in March of 2000 kgDM/ha.

“We ran scenarios and designed a feed budget with stock numbers we could manage based on our minimum pasture cover. For example, if we had bought 100 bulls in April we would have run out of grass by September. But we could manage 50. We’re now in a position to buy some more.

“We also sold a fair few store lambs early and weaned earlier. Because we de-stocked early we’re confident our ewes didn’t lose too much condition and they will be in good shape come spring.”

Paul’s pasture covers are starting to bounce back and are currently sitting at 1680 kgDM/ha. With a minimum cover of 1500 required for the spring and the use of Nitrogen, Paul is confident of a good lambing. Cattle numbers are still down, but only by 50 to 100 head.

One of the tools Paul found invaluable during the drought was Farmax, which he has been using for the last three years. He also acknowledges the help and support of his farm consultant, Ben Harker from AgFirst Hawkes Bay.

Using proven science and information originally developed by AgResearch, Farmax is a decision support tool that allows pastoral farmers to plan, monitor and forecast their productivity, profitability and performance, so decisions are made based on what is really happening on-farm. It was commercially launched in 2003.

Farmax Technical Specialist Steven Howarth says throughout the drought he has seen a lot more action with both farm consultants and farmers making regular updates - weekly as the situation evolved.

“Looking at the files coming through it was clear that our farmer clients were being proactive and making early decisions to maintain a feasible plan,” he says. “We also noticed a lot of analysis by consultants weighing up the most cost effective options when the hard decisions needed to be made.”

Steven believes most farmers using Farmax have a realistic plan in place for the winter. But he cautions that pasture cover will get tight early spring before reaching balance date - then it will really take off.

“It is imperative farmers have a clear plan for the winter. Media reports described the drought as the most severe in about 70 years so chances are a lot of us were in uncharted territory. Setting up winter stock numbers and feed reserves is critical and needs to be done now.”

Steven also encourages farmers to have a plan in place for how to manage pasture growth post balance date this spring.

“The farmers I have spoken to believe the store market will be running hot next spring as stock will be in high demand and short supply. This will push up prices and careful decisions will need to be made on how to manage feed and whether purchasing stock on the grass market will be profitable.”


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