New Zealand’s arable industry is worth $2.1 billion each year to the economy, and earns us $260 million in export sales. It also employs more than 11,300 Kiwis.
It’s a diverse sector, and a world leader in both volume and quality producing the likes of radish seed, white clover seed and carrot seed.
But while many New Zealanders could probably offer some general details about what a dairy or sheep and beef farmer gets up to in working day, the daily tasks facing an arable farmer might be more of a mystery. So we decided to ask some Federated Farmers arable sector leaders what they’re currently busy with, starting in the deep south…
When we called Chris Dillon on Friday February 12, he was busy out on the farm doing harvest maintenance, including installing RT in a new header for start of harvest the following week and ensuring grain drying equipment is ready for when the crop comes in.
Recent rain in Southland has held up the harvest but the aim is to start once the paddocks have dried out. The crops won’t be dry, but they can artificially dry the crop in the drier as the market is demanding delivery of crop.
Feed wheat, destined for the livestock industry to be used as complementary feed, will be harvested in the week beginning February 15, dried and taken straight to the end user.
Moving up the island to South Canterbury, Federated Farmers Arable Industry Chairman Colin Hurst is harvesting grass seed (turf ryegrass) for export. This is seed that will be used for lawns, parks and reserves. One of the unexpected spin-offs of the Covid-19 pandemic is that people have been re-grassing lawns and there has been a big demand which industry wasn’t expecting.
While waiting for the weather to warm up in the morning they’ve been fixing the silo and getting it ready for more seed and undertaking repairs on key farm machinery. They’d had a major header breakdown at the end of January but the last parts have arrived and Colin will shortly have the harvester back to use. As harvest of crops is time critical, he’d been getting on using leased gear.
Once the ryegrass is complete, they will then launch into the wheat harvest which is going back into the domestic market as feed and milling wheat. The NZ Arable Food Industry Council has set a goal of achieving self-sufficiency in million wheat by 2025; at present more than half the wheat consumed by New Zealanders in bread and other flour-based foods is imported.
In Canterbury, Brian Leadley is about to kick off his harvest of quinoa, a gluten-free seed regarded by some as a super food. This crop is being grown for consumption domestically and internationally. It’ll go straight from the header to the seed store for dressing and all the food safety testing required, before arriving on consumers’ plates in about three or four months.
Once done with the quinoa, Brian will move to harvest of grass seed grown for local and export markets for pasture seed or to go in pasture mixes.
Straight after that, it’s onto the wheat – including purple wheat that is in high demand. This speciality wheat is the wholegrain you will find in multi-grain breads.
Brian says on-farm biosecurity is extremely important for arable farmers moving between crops. After finishing each crop the header and other related machinery will get a clean down. This can take anywhere between an hour or 5 hours depending on the complexity of machinery and contract requirements/specifications around weed seeds.
While Brian is now halfway through is harvest, farmers up under the mid Canterbury foothills are waiting to get harvest started, due to the later sowing date and variable weather making it too difficult to get crops in.
With a newborn baby recently arrived, Henry Reynolds’ household is busier than ever. Out on the farm, he’s harvesting malting barley to go to Malteurop to make beer.
Crimsom clover, rape seed and some buckwheat for the domestic market have been harvested in the last couple of weeks.
For the first time in four years local farmers have been able to get back to growing peas, thanks to a ‘Team Wairarapa’ district-wide effort to eradicate an outbreak of pea weevil. Henry says he’s hearing from other farmers news of some exceptional yields while others have described average yields.
Henry says he’s already three quarters of the way through harvest, which means he’s heading for the earliest ever finish for a summer harvest on the farm. It means he can get on with direct drilling other crops – a technique used to preserve carbon in the soil.
Over in the Manawatu, when we called Dion Fleming was waiting on a weather window to get back into bringing in milling/feed wheat. Some barley has already by reaped and stored and it looks good.
Maize silage is their main crop harvested and the standing crop is starting to look OK now as it had a hard start to life. Shortly after planting the weather turned to heavy rain and that will probably lead to a delayed harvest. Maize silage harvest will start in March and then maize grain will probably start in late April and go to late June. They’re getting on with farm maintenance tasks meantime.
Maize silage is used as a complementary feed in the livestock sector, and maize grain as starch.
Last stop on our tour of arable activity is with the President of Federated Farmers Hawke’s Bay, Jim Galloway. When we called, he was in the middle of pulling weeds in a process vegetable crop.
Cereal crops are still being harvested in Hawkes Bay and the reports Jim has heard are that maize is looking good as the district had good rain through November to sustain growth.
Jim was waiting on other crops to ripen so they can get onto the harvest. It’s been a good season for silage and hay.
The province is starting to dry out, Jim says, but that’s nothing unusual for a Hawke’s Bay summer.