Weather patterns: Farmers urged to prepapre

Ballance's national corporate account manager Aaron Stafford.

Whether you live in the North or the South Island, MetService forecasters share that based on current El Niño data, we’re all in for a different kind of a summer this time around - particularly our farmers and growers.

A recent free online webinar was held between Dairy Women’s Network, MetService meteorologists and Ballance Agri-Nutrients (Ballance) experts.

The webinar provided farmers and growers with insights on how they can prepare for the intense incoming El Niño.

MetService forecaster Georgina Griffiths explained that looking from a broad perspective, this year’s forecast is for a sharp change to a strong El Niño weather pattern.

In particular, this will be characterised by intense and frequent west and south-westerly winds, which we’re set to encounter over the spring and summer months.

Regions on heat watch

Of note, seasonal predictions for those in the Gisborne and Hawke's Bay regions signal some very high temperatures through this summer, and to a lesser extent, Nelson/Marlborough, Canterbury and Eastern Otago are forecast to also see an extended run of heat over the next six months.

However, Kiwis in areas such as Southland, Otago, and Westland may be in for a bit of a “bummer summer,” with some cooler temperatures and higher-than-average rainfall over late spring through summer, due to the lower pressure systems that will sit at the bottom of the country.

Who can expect some rain?

In terms of rainfall, seasonal predictions indicate the Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay regions are looking very dry, overall. Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Coromandel can expect intermittent and modest summer rainfall.

For farmers and growers, however, be warned that even with modest or “near-normal” rainfall, soils are expected to be dry as the expected strong winds are likely to strip moisture out of the soil.

For King Country right down through Taranaki and Western and Central North Island, expect frequent westerly winds along with some decent summer rain.

Although, be prepared for soil conditions to bounce around as predictions are showing that there will be periods of dry spells with wind, intermingled with wetter periods.

Westland, Fiordland, Southland and much of Otago, are forecast to receive well above normal summer rainfall, with the potential for periods of extreme rain from November onwards.

Drought risk

MetService forecasters echoed concerns of summer drought in the Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay regions, as well as in Marlborough and Canterbury, as the mix of wind and heat will likely result in dry soils.

How will this all play out on-farm?

“What’s important for farmers and growers is to understand what these multitude of weather conditions will mean for on-farm,” says Ballance's national corporate account manager Aaron Stafford.

“The seasons are going to be more pronounced going forward and I really think the key takeaway for those on-farm is that this year’s summer is going to be very different to the last couple of seasons, wherever you are.”

Stafford echoed that for those located in areas forecast to be drier this summer-autumn, it will be vital to harness the soil moisture and pasture growth consistency throughout spring, as soils in these areas are likely to dry out post-Christmas.

“You’ve really got to make the most with what you can in the early season in terms of pasture growth, good soil moisture and temperatures to harness feed availability for the following months.”

The role of nitrogen for on-farm preparation

When it comes to practical advice, Aaron highlighs the importance of nitrogen.

“We’d recommend focusing on using nitrogen as a pasture growth promoter to maximise spring growth, leveraging conditions that are favourable for strong N responses. Pastures still look very N-limited coming out of a really wet autumn and winter in many areas.

“Don’t leave your available N inputs too late in the season, as nitrogen responses will be poor when pastures are moisture and temperature stressed, or when there is lots of soil mineral N already available in the soil over summer / autumn. We recommend that you shift more of your nitrogen focus to earlier in the season.”

The consequences of wet autumn and winter months in some parts of the country - thanks to La Niña - have led to a lot of leaching of mobile nutrients, meaning low soil availability of nitrogen and sulphur this spring.

“We’ve been seeing a number of nitrogen-deficient pastures out there over the past few months. Overlay this with good soil moisture, good temperature, the pasture production potential is there, but nitrogen will become the key limitation in that spring period.

“So, make sure you recognise to go early and drive pasture production pre-Christmas.”

How can growers take care of crops?

Ballance science strategy manager Warwick Catto also urgedsfarmers to start thinking about how they can best prioritise their crops, with advice to plant as early as possible, particularly for the regions that are looking to get really dry over the summer months.

Warwick Catto.

“In those regions, you’ve now got a short window of moisture left to get the crops in, particularly summer crops that need their roots down deep in the soil to get established and access moisture. So talk to your contractors and act early,” says Warwick.

Ways in which to support soil nutrients were also discussed, with Warwick suggesting that effluent paddocks can be a useful tool to consider when it comes to supplying nutrients to crop areas.

However, he notes that “phosphate will be a key nutrient for crops experiencing those dry conditions, so placement of this is key as surface application simply won’t supply the nutrient to where the crop needs it – phosphate should be incorporated into the soil for best effect”.

For those in the deep South and West Coast, where there will be levels of summer moisture, Warwick suggest that yield potential for brassicas will be very high, “so make the most of the opportunity to apply nitrogen to the established crop, with a split application strategy so that rates of N can be better matched to crop yield potential, depending on how the weather plays out”. 

All in all…

To wrap the webinar up, Aaron highlights the key point that for farmers and growers is to really make the most of their nutrient products.

“With increasing seasonal weather and pasture production variability, it really reinforces getting back to the basics of the 4 R’s of good fertiliser management, that is: applying at the right time, in the right place, with the right product, and at the right rate.”

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