January rain timely boost in Nth Canty
After three years of drought, North Canterbury farmers are relieved to have got “some decent rain” in early January, says North Canterbury Federated Farmers Meat and Fibre Chairperson and Hawarden farmer Dan Hodgen.
“To put it in perspective, from Christmas through to the end of January we had 120mm while our entire rainfall for 2015 was 230mm so it has been a pretty big change around.
“Rain in January is great because the soil temperature is so high that things rocket out of the ground.” Strong sheepmeat prices, driven by rising demand from China, have also been a very welcome boost.
“It has been nice to have a decent market to sell into so things can ﬁnally start to get back on track,” Dan says.
It has been a tough few years for farmers in the region, with damage from the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake coming on top of successive droughts.
Dan says while the rural community really struggled at ﬁrst with associated mental health impacts, he suggests people are now much more likely to reach out.
In Movember 2017, Dan shaved off his 20-year beard to continue raising awareness on high rates of suicide, particularly in rural areas.
Some of the funds raised by Movember went to Farmstrong, an initiative aimed at supporting farmers to live well, farm well and get the most out of life. “It was great to join in and support Movember,” says Dan, who has since regrown his beard.
Dan, a ﬁfth generation New Zealand farmer, grew up on the family farm near Hawarden where his parents Mike and Jan still reside, not far from where Dan and his wife Wendy live with their two children, Bri, 12 and Gus, 11.
The family business owns four properties in the upper Waipara catchment, totalling 930 hectares and 8500 stock units. Sheep are the mainstay, along with some beef ﬁ nishing. In the 20 15/16 season, the Hodgen’s joined the Red Meat Proﬁt Partnership (RMPP) project as a pilot farm.
Dan says that this has led to some simple, yet profound changes including a shift towards selling all lambs at weaning to take advantage of good demand for store lambs and to take pressure off
summer feed for ewes.
“Essentially, our focus is now on breeding stock and everything is dictated around that.” This year’s sales policy has been a little less aggressive, with 800 store lambs kept.
That’s because there has been no shortage of feed, particularly with a new property adding plenty of lucerne and clover-based pasture.
Another change was to introduce fodder beet for wintering ewes. This year they have doubled the area of fodder beet. “We’re still testing it out but so far everything is looking positive.”
Through the RMPP project, a whole farm soil test was also carried out which revealed some surplus fertility. As well, the RMPP project saw them explore the potential of ram harnesses.
“The key beneﬁt of a project like this is having someone take a look at what you’re doing from the outside. “If you’re open to new ideas, it can be very useful.”