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Strong grain prices stymied by summer drought

Strong grain prices stymied by summer drought

The drought of the past summer means many Southland arable farmers have not been able to capitalise on strong feed grain prices, which have been shored up by demand from the sheep and dairy industry.

Northern Southland farmer and Federated Farmers Southland arable chairman Chris Dillon says this season’s harvest was down 25% to 30% because of the early dry weather in November.

“The grain is (usually) fi lling in November. It likes a lot of sunshine hours, but it needs moisture as well and it just didn’t get the moisture,” Chris says. Also, regardless of how the grain price pans out through the season, it is supplied at a contracted price agreed on before it is planted.

“So the grain farmer is not capitalising on the higher price because he has not got any available outside his contract.”

Philosophical about the tough season, Chris sees the big picture. “You look forward to the next harvest, you can’t win them all.”

“The price is looking better for next year. It will have a short term spike this spring and will reach normality again when harvest starts next season which, hopefully will be looking on the high side of $400 a tonne for feed grain.”

The third generation on the farm, Chris and his wife Rochelle own 865 hectares near Balfour, in the Waimea Plains, one of Southland’s crop belts. Over the past 18 years, the size of the property has tripled.

Of the 865 ha, 500 to 600ha is in arable feed crops comprising 400ha of wheat, 120ha of barley and 80ha of peas. The farm typically yields nine tonnes of grain per hectare.

The balance supports 350 breeding deer hinds, from which the progeny are all fattened, and seasonal grazing for 180 R1 and 180 R2 dairy heifers from November to August.

While the province has experienced a huge dairy boom during the past two decades, it has always been a good arable farming district, Chris says.

The shift to dairying meant there was a corresponding shift to supplying feed grain instead milling wheat and malting barley, as was traditionally the case.

“What we have noticed, and it’s been a long time coming, is the synergy between the sheep operations and arable farms, and a lot of people are going back to using sheep in the rotation on fi nishing crops.”

“There’s more money in the sheep industry now and there’s people buying in lambs and grazing them, as opposed to your traditional farm where they are breeding and fi nishing their own.” “It’s another income stream.”

During the past 10 years another change is that more crops, about 70% to 75%, are autumn sown to spread out the harvest. “Everything we do is about timing – timing is the key to things working.”

Chris explains that there is a small window in late April to sow a large area of grain, “so you’ve got to be prepared earlier ” as May is too late and too wet.

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