A free phone service has been set up to support farmers with feed planning as they head into autumn.
That's one of the measures being employed to help farmers cope with the severe drought conditions that continue to put pressure on Northland farmers.
The new remote support service has been set up by the Ministry for Primary Industries in partnership with DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ, AgFirst and Federated Farmers.
Veronica Gillett, Beef + Lamb's extension manager for Northland, says technical advice is just a phone call away.
"While on-farm advisers or field days are not possible at the moment, this new support service will be helpful.''
She says drought remains a massive issue for Northland farmers, who have also been dealing with the Mycoplasma bovis threat to cattle and now the Covid-19 virus lockdown.
"Even in normal times, feeding animals well through a drought can be challenging and this is far from normal,'' Gillett says.
The feed-planning phone service includes a free assessment of feed demand and supply and advice about feed and livestock management.
For more in-depth support, a farm systems consultant will be made available to provide advice over the phone, although there will be a cost to this service.
Gillett says Beef + Lamb is working with other industry bodies to ensure messaging around farmer support is clear, accurate and timely.
"Thank goodness for the internet. We are continuing to network with other rural agents, using all possible methods including Zoom, phone, Skype, Teams and teleconferencing," she says.
"There is a lot of collaboration behind the scenes.''
Ultimately, rain is desperately needed to drive grass growth going into winter, but there are management tools available to help farmers stretch limited feed resources further.
These include body condition scoring and strategic feeding based on scores.
"Preferential feeding and subsequent sale, restock or culling decisions are best made as soon as possible,'' Gillett says.
She urges all farmers to set up business continuity plans for their farm operations should they fall ill.
"This should include a list of important contacts, operating instructions for water pumps, electric fencing setup and staff house water systems. Knowing who to call for trucking, stock feed, fertiliser and shearing operations keeps the ball rolling and stock healthy.
"Being well prepared helps to reduce stress, so it's better to order fertiliser early and book stock to the works early through your agent."
She urges farmers to stay in touch with their bank managers and accountants.
While there are several online stock sale platforms, Gillett recommends farmers talk to their agents first.
She says the solitude and stresses of the level 4 lockdown, coupled with the drought and M. bovis eradication programme, mean it is important for farmers to stay safe and connected.
"We encourage farmers to phone their neighbours and friends, set up phone trees or where possible, make use of technologies such as Zoom or Facetime."
Farmers can access extra support or confidential advice by phoning the Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254.
Beef + Lamb has online resources available that offer advice on business continuity during the lockdown, including compliance templates for essential services.
For sheep farmers, information about shearing can be found at nzshearing.co.nz or by talking to a local wool buyer.
The free phone service runs until June 30:
- • Dry stock sector – beef and lamb: 0800 BEEFLAMB (0800 233 352)
- • Dairy sector – Dairy NZ: 0800 4 DAIRYNZ (0800 4 324 7969)
- • AgFirst – 0508 AGFIRST (0508 243 477)