Expert view

Weather headaches and a new wheat yield record

I hoped I wouldn’t have to resort to writing about the weather in this blog for at least a year or 2, but April was remarkable even for a country where climatic calamities are common.

The remnants of not one, but two tropical cyclones, namely Debbie and Cook, soaked all but the very far south in New Zealand, flooding paddocks and wrecking crops. In many places, the ground is so wet it will be a month or more before it will take a tractor – and that’s only if there’s no more rain in the interim.

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The North Island’s Bay of Plenty region in New Zealand was the worst hit, with dozens of farms underwater for weeks. Thousands of cows were evacuated, in some cases to be milked elsewhere, but others were forced to dry off cows 2 months prior to the normal winter shutdown. There was an immediate lift in global dairy prices, but for arable farmers, there’s no prospect of such a price response.

One farming paper said “Deluge Debbie” had “nailed the lid on the coffin for many Mid Canterbury farmers”. Applying the coffin cliché to “many” was an exaggeration, but it could prove correct for a few, notably those who had ventured into late-maturing high-value seed crops in an attempt to avoid persistently low cereal prices. If merchants invoke default clauses, bankruptcy or forced asset sales loom for the most indebted.

New wheat yield record

On a brighter note, as most arable readers will already be aware, the recent harvest saw a new world record for wheat yield set by Mid Canterbury farmers Eric and Maxine Watson. Their 11ha field of wheat yielded nearly 16.8t/ha.

Eric Watson - wheat record

Eric Watson – wheat record

 

I first met the Watsons – purely by chance – at France’s equivalent to the UK Cereals event – Les Culturales – in 2001. The fact they were there then, and have made many similar agronomic research trips since, is testament to their dedication. For them to land the world record was just reward indeed.

Meanwhile the focus on farming’s impact on New Zealand’s fresh water, as discussed in my previous blog, continues with another damning report released, Our Fresh Water 2017, the third such tome this year alone.