Action needed now to minimise Canterbury drought losses

By: Lincoln University

Farmers need to act now if they are to cope with the effects of a predicted drought in Canterbury, Lincoln University experts say.

Action needed now to minimise Canterbury drought losses
"Whichever way you look at it, we are in a loss minimisation situation now."

But they also need to be thinking long-term with more dry-spells looking likely.

Chris Logan, Animal Programmes Manager at Lincoln University, says it seems the region may be in for a hard drought of a kind which has not been seen for some decades.

"If they don't have other contingencies in place, then farmers really need to be reducing stock numbers to their winter stocking rate as fast as they can. That probably means taking a lower price than they would have liked but at this point, there is not much option."

The alternative is that you will have lower lambing percentages next year, which means this year's problems simply compound next year, he says.

"Getting space in the works is going to be an issue. If you have a good relationship with your meat company, that is going to help. If you've shopped around over the last few years and have not built up that relationship, then you will probably need extra feed just to hold your animals until you can get them away. So look to get feed now if you can."

Sourcing off-farm grazing is another option, but it comes at a cost, not only in terms of grazing and transport charges per head but increased animal health risks when grazed-off animals return, as well as reduced management and nutritional control, Mr Logan says.

"Whichever way you look at it, we are in a loss minimisation situation now."

Professor Tony Bywater, of the Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says long-term planning is needed.

"The pundits tell us that climate change is likely to increase the frequency of dry periods in the future so farmers really need to be thinking about how their system is set up to cope with variability in weather patterns."

He says the start of a drought is not the best time to start thinking about how to cope with a dry spell.

"By the time we realise we are in a drought, it's usually too late to do anything about it without it costing an arm and a leg."

He says Canterbury farmers need to have flexibility built into their farming systems and know their 'trigger points'. "Know what your policies are when it gets dry, and when it's a good year, and then monitor the situation every week and react when you have to.

"If you don't like risk, react sooner when it's getting dry, maybe when soil moisture reaches 15 percent by volume – even though at that level, pastures will still be growing. If you can take a bit more risk, wait until it reaches 10 percent but that's pretty much on the edge. Whatever your trigger is, when you reach it, act. Don't wait."

Lincoln University research shows us that if farmers react to their moisture triggers instead of hanging on in the hopes of rain, they will reduce the variability of performance year to year and maintain higher profits. However, this depends on farmers having the ability to react.

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