Good, soaking rain’ welcome

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Wet paddocks were a welcome sight this week for farmers in the Waitaki district.
They have been struggling with dry conditions for the best part of two years, forcing many to sell livestock at low prices because they did not have enough feed.
Several days of rain have helped, but farmers said there was a long way to go yet.
“We need about another 50mm, then another 50mm a couple of weeks after that,” Neville Caldwell said.
He farms alongside State Highway 1 at Kakaho Creek, just north of Hampden. Whereas he would usually have 200 to 300 fattened lambs ready to send to the meat works every two weeks in summer, he sent his first draft of just 65 lambs this week.
Mr Caldwell sold all his old ewes before Christmas and has sold two-thirds of his store lambs. The prices were “not good”.
He was not worried about the prospect of the rainfall continuing.
“I’d take a flood. Anything’s better than the dry. There’s no grass.”It had been impossible to make feed supplements this summer, Mr Caldwell said. A paddock he had shut up for hay had hardly grown.
Silage he made two years ago and buried in a pit, thinking he would never need it, had been fed out last year.
If farmers could not make their own hay and silage, they would have to buy in feed supplements, he said. The increased demand would push up costs.
Maheno farmer Ian Hunter said this was the worst dry period he had seen in 17 years of farming on his own.
“Its a double whammy, with the meat schedule not good this year.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to get over it.”Brassicas and young grass would respond best to this week’s rain, Mr Hunter said. Older grass would take longer to recover, although paddocks were “greening up”.
“It’s perfect rain; good, soaking rain. There’s no run-off.”Only the top layer of soil was wet _ the moisture had not yet seeped down to the subsoil. “A couple of hot days” could dry things out again, he said.
Mr Hunter had sold off his store lambs and had sent sheep to graze at Livingstone. Others had returned home from a neighbour’s farm, where they had been able to clean up a couple of paddocks.
The sheep prices were affecting everyone, creating “ a real battle” for farmers. “Most of the South Island is suffering.”Neighbours were talking to each other to help keep their spirits up, he said.

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