As one farmer client stated “this spring has been a challenge”, and he’s referring specifically to pasture growth over the last three months.
In the cooler areas of the Bay of Plenty, and the pattern by most accounts has been similar country wide, there’s been a few warm bright days, interspersed with yet another band of buffeting chilling souwesterly winds.
That’s not conducive to strong pasture growth and the figures from the cages on the two ESI monitor properties reflect that.
Apart from Edgecumbe growth rates of 80kgDM/ha/day for October, growth rates are down on last year. The October growth figure has been supported by a record silage take. However, unless reasonable rain arrives by the end of December, it’s unlikely there will be surplus to make into hay.
What is clear is that the ability to manage the uneven growth this spring has been largely dependent on the amount of pasture cover available at calving. Properties with higher covers have been able to maintain longer intervals between grazings, ensuring higher plant energy levels and more rapid regrowth after grazing.
The amount of available cover at calving was dictated by autumn management months before, prior to soil temperatures dropping to below 10°C, when there is no or little growth.
Thus it takes much forward planning and careful management for famers to have the ability to safeguard feed supplies months into the future.
When we started our farming career we were told that a shed full of hay was good insurance. But we were young, enthusiastic, and confident we had the answers. Extra hay wasn’t stored, nor were winter crops on our agenda.
Without securing our feed supplies we became increasingly nervous, and certain that the weather was conspiring against us in ways earlier generations never had to cope with. We also mistakenly thought that, because of our importance to the country’s economy, in times of hardship government support should and would be available.
Our thinking and planning became short term. We were always looking for the next decent rain in order to ensure sufficient pasture for the next grazing. Spending took place when there was money in the cheque account, and stopped when there wasn’t.
Through our own lack of planning our well-being was at the mercy of short term weather events. In doing so our financial survival was placed in the hands of local banks and overseas markets, and it appears that little has changed for many farmers since.
But it doesn’t have to be. Farmers have the ability to gain greater control of their future by ensuring more pasture is pushed ahead as soon as pasture growth is sparked by the arrival of the autumn rains.
Squeezing the system to achieve a few extra kilograms of milksolids is unlikely to generate more (if any) profit this season. Therefore it may be an ideal opportunity to dry off early, build covers, and put weight on animals. Next spring’s feed will largely be secured, and with better conditioned animals, early season production will be optimised.
That way the dependence on fertiliser nitrogen for winter pasture is greatly reduced, allowing a more sustainable soil fertility programme to be introduced, and ensuring that any nitrogen leaching regulations are comfortably met.