`There’s no good news’

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Parched paddocks . . . Not  much grass has grown on  North Otago dryland farms  this autumn, as can be seen  on this land near Kakanui.
Parched paddocks . . . Not much grass has grown on North Otago dryland farms this autumn, as can be seen on this land near Kakanui.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Richard Strowger says this has been one of his most difficult years as a farm consultant.
Farmers seeking his services are mostly experiencing difficulties, and he cannot offer them much of a lift.
“There’s no good news,” he told the Oamaru Mail this week.
Tactics for saving money and improving efficiency have already been taken, and farmers were suffering from a painful combination of low prices and lack of rain.
“It’s certainly drier than this time last year,” Mr Strowger said. “There’s not much pasture.
“The winter feed crops are OK because of the bit of rain we had in January. The fodder beet has done incredibly well.”Its deeper roots meant it could access low groundwater levels better than pasture or other crops.
The demand for feed was not high, though, because many farms had sold a lot of stock in the early summer.
“We killed a lot of lambs straight off mum. There are only ewes to feed.”Some were being fed grain to get them through the mating period.
Wool prices had “come up a bit”, leading him to hope wool would be “the new white gold”.
Prices for arable crops were “really low”, Mr Strowger said. Dairy graziers were also struggling, with dairy farmers cutting costs.
He could not foresee any substantial rain in the next three to four months.
“A dry autumn farmers can deal with to a certain extent. A dry spring is the hardest.”Without a flush of fresh pasture growth in spring, farmers could not properly sustain lactating livestock and newborns.
By spring, North Otago pastures could be facing two years of drought and some would be “pretty knackered”, Mr Strowger said. Replacing them would be costly, but farmers could not afford not to do so.
Where irrigation was available, sheep and beef farmers could spread their costs seasonally and with differing land uses, Mr Strowger said. However, dairy farmers would need to be “fully shared-up” to ensure they had enough water for year-round pasture growth.