Decisions over winter grazing have been made more difficult this year as concerns grow about the potential spread of Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis).
Joanne Burke, who is Mid Canterbury’s arable chairperson, says worry over M.bovis has prompted some dairy farmers to pull out of moving stock for grazing as a precautionary measure to avoid potential exposure to the infection.
“We personally had thirty hectares of winter feed ready for dairy cows to come in but the dairy farmer pulled out because he wanted to lower the risk to his cows by not putting them on a truck. Luckily we were able to shift that green feed – kale – to store lambs.”
She says the whole farming sector has to be “alert and assertive” on the issue of biosecurity.
“We do understand the fears that dairy farmers have. Those fears are justifi ed and we want to be right there in tight partnership with them so we can lower our risk and theirs.”
DairyNZ has issued detailed biosecurity information for graziers on M. bovis, which is available online – https://www.dairynz.co.nz/business/biosecurity/biosecurity-on-grazing-properties/ Of concern to many, though, is to what extent any directives will be followed in practice.
“We need one hundred per cent cooperation between truck drivers and, if you’re a grazier, you need one hundred per cent knowledge about neighbouring cows – and if that neighbour is also grazing cows, are you double fencing so those cows can’t touch nose to nose?” Joanne, who has held the advocacy role with Federated Farmers for four years, says arable farmers face other issues around biosecurity arising from imported feed.
For example, velvetleaf – considered to be the worst cropping weed in the world – came into New Zealand in 2015 with contaminated fodder beet seed imported from Europe and is now present on a number of properties throughout New Zealand.
Climate volatility has been problematic for the industry too, with April’s Arable Industry Marketing Initiative (AIMI) Survey showing lower than average yields over six surveyed crops after a shortened growing season and early harvest.
“We’ve been riding a weather roller coaster for the past two or three seasons,” says Joanne, noting a paucity of harvesting opportunities in the last season. “Personally, we lost all our clover in 2017 as couldn’t get it off the ground. We made twelve attempts to harvest it and ended up losing the lot.”
Across Mid Canterbury, results have been mixed with a fairly average harvest overall.
Looking to the longer term, Jo says there are big issues around succession planning for the arable industry particularly given the pressures of rising land prices and the difficulties of making a viable return off crops.
“All the gains that arable farmers have made in the last decade or so have been through investment in technology, breeding and increasing yields.” While not a full-time farmer herself, Jo says she is heavily involved as the wife of an arable farmer.
“I’m allowed to do the cultivation but not drilling,” she quips, noting that she is an absolutely passionate advocate for the arable industry.
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