At last - rain forecast for North

By Mike Barrington

The best thing just over the horizon for drought-hit Northland farmers is long-awaited rain - patchy showers on Friday, another sprinkle in some northern areas on Saturday, a good fall throughout the region on Sunday, and more light rain in some parts on Monday.

The rain is predicted in the MetService forecast for the next 10 days.

And beef farmer Geff Cookson, of Kawakawa, is hoping the weather forecasters got it right. He has some ropey old kikuyu which a bit of rain will rejuvenate and enable him to keep 1400 bulls on his property and, hopefully, see his way through this grim dry spell.

What Mr Cookson fears is the drought continuing into May or June, although the North has an advantage in that, with nitrogen, grass will grow in those months the rest of country calls winter.

Mr Cookson was interested in a Beef + Lamb New Zealand mid-season update estimating Northland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty farmers' profit before tax for the 2012-13 season would fall 50 per cent compared to last season, to an average of $44,300.

B+L NZ says the forecast average lamb price of $85 per head is down 25 per cent from last season's $113.60, which was the second highest on record.

Nationwide, farm profit before tax for the current season is expected to fall 54 per cent, to an average of $73,000.

Mr Cookson said while cow prices had fallen from 440c to 380 a kilogram at the meat works he had "seen it worse" and was not expecting his bottom line to tumble as far as B+L NZ was predicting.

Northland Rural Support Trust official Julie Jonker said farmers without supply contracts had only slim hopes of obtaining palm kernel supplementary feed before April as all supplies were committed.

Federated Farmers was investigating the availability of hay and grain in the South Island where there had been a bumper crop.

Some Northland farmers had made late hay. Others had harvested immature maize or cut outside rows to save what they could before the sun dried all nutrition from their plants.

Ms Jonker said the immature maize with low-protein kernels would make low-value silage, but it would be "better than nothing".

B+L NZ Northland official Thomas Creswell said animal welfare - the provision of water, food and shelter for stock - was the main issue for farmers dealing with drought.


- Northern Advocate

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