Dealing with the dreaded ‘d’ word – drought

1 January 2018

It’s been a tough season for many farmers around the country. To say the weather has thrown a few curve balls is an understatement.

Some regions have been hit with the trifecta of a wet winter, cold spring and a scorching dry summer. Here in Taranaki, we’re one of them. Long-time farmers I’ve spoken to say the last time they’ve faced a situation like this was in 1977, and even that doesn’t compare.

I know many of you are probably wondering when we’ll catch a break, and what autumn might have in store? I know it sounds cliché but all we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Many of you are already taking action and have a plan in place that you’re regularly adapting as things change.

For those of you who haven’t yet got a plan, I understand it can be hard to find the time to sit down and think outside the immediate issues, but it will help set you in good stead to finish the season and start the next in as positive a position as possible.

A good place to start is by doing a feed budget. Note your current situation, where you need to be at key dates, and then identify the gaps. This will help you weigh-up your options to increase feed supply or decrease demand, whether that be through destocking, importing feed, or options to boost homegrown feed, and work out the associated costs.

Remember to monitor your situation regularly – grass growth and cow condition (including young stock) – so you can adapt your plan as things change.

In regards to pasture management, despite some rain, the short-term will still be tough. Hold your rotation length and avoid overgrazing paddocks. Utilise supplement now to give your paddocks sufficient time to recover, and resist the temptation to put stock on paddocks until there are at least two leaves, ideally three. Depending on your situation, feeding supplement on a stand-off paddock may be a good option.

Most importantly, don’t forget to reach out for support if you need it. It’s easy to get so focused on the long list of things to do, from monitoring grazing residuals through to body condition scores, that you put yourself last. Try and take a break by getting off farm to attend a discussion group, field day, social event in your local community, or just to catch up with friends.

There are a number of rural organisations here to support you. We’ve been working closely with the Rural Support Trust, and if you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed or struggling I can’t recommend them enough. We’re also here to help and can refer you on to the best person to assist you.

So please remember to take care of yourselves and each other, and don’t hesitate to pick up the phone to ask for help if you need it.

For more information to help you deal with the drought, visit dairynz.co.nz/summer. Or, if you would like to contact your local consulting officer for advice, refer to the inside back page for their details.

By Sarah Payne, DairyNZ senior consulting officer, Central Taranaki