As we head into another New Zealand summer, the forecasters are picking rainfall and temperatures to be normal or just below, with the East Coast to bear the brunt of any dry spell.
Forecasts are just that, though, and we all know that parts of the country that are in flood in August can be in drought by January. Which is why it pays to look ahead and consider how best to prepare for extended dry periods over the coming months. In this blog, we share some farming tips to help.
That burst of spring pasture growth slows in summer as non-irrigated soils start to dry. High air temperatures and low moisture can cause dead stems and stalks to build up in the pasture base. This may increase dry matter percentage and fibre content, but it also reduces pasture quality, which then needs to be taken into account when calculating feed allowances.
Complicating that calculation is the need to get grazing just right – overgrazing in summer depletes a plant’s energy, which is stored mainly in the bottom 4cm of the plant. But under-grazing is also to be avoided – if the grass left after grazing is too long, pasture quality will decline and dead material in the base will rot when it eventually rains.
Aerating your subsoil in spring will increase the resilience of your pasture to a summer dry. Aeration increases dry matter and also root depth, which allows pasture to cope better with a dry spell.
For the full list of aeration benefits see here: SUBSOIL AERATION BENEFITS
If you irrigate, look for ways to make your system more efficient and easier to maintain. Consider building a storage system that holds water for use during the irrigation season (a lot of farmers are already doing this). And remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, so install devices that allow you to keep track of water use.
The odd dry spell is one thing; a gradual but inescapable change to our climate is another. If your region’s rainfall is in the grip of a long-term decline, you need to act now. Start the process of shifting to cropping systems that are less water dependent, and plant crops that withstand dryness, also consider investing in water storage infrastructure that catches & stores the water when it comes for use in times when you need it the most.
Surviving a dry spell is all about planning. With a good plan in place, you and your team will be less stressed and the effects of a dry spell on the following season’s production will be minimised. Your plan should include a realistic assessment of feed supplies and stock condition. Monitor your farm and rainfall against the plan, and take action early if you see a shortfall – hope is not a strategy, it’s a trap.
We are fortunate in New Zealand in that we don’t get the climatic extremes of other countries such as Australia or the US. This means that with some forecasting and planning, most of our dry spells can be weathered without too much drama. The same planning is also the best preparation for when things do get nasty – a substantial drought will still hurt but not as much. So talk to your advisers and get your farm’s drought plan in place before it is needed.