Standing up to summer

 

Farming for dry summers is just part of daily life for Michael Groome of Hawke's Bay's Sherenden Station.

Sherenden Station is traditionally a finishing farm for sheep and cattle, based 25km west of Hastings. Michael and his wife Mary have been farming in partnership with Mary's father for the past decade and Michael also farms two smaller blocks comprising of around 230ha, both south of Hastings. They have watched their rainfall decrease every year.

 

"When I started at Sherenden our annual rainfall was around 850mm. That has steadily dropped to below 800mm now. For this calendar year we had received less than half of the expected rainfall, with 360mm recorded between January and September," Michael says.

 

They carry 2,700 ewes which go to a terminal ram and also fattens winter trade lambs. He finishes between 600-800 cattle per year. This year's drought saw only 70mm fall at Sherenden between the beginning of the year and autumn. "We farm for a dry summer and try to grow all our feed ourselves. Maize is key and we aim to hold around 1,000 tonnes of dry matter and grow 20ha of lucerne, averaging around 500 bales."

 

Michael said Hawke's Bay is traditionally dry in summer and grass is usually scarce, but the 2020 drought has seen some properties absolutely decimated."The biggest problem is it has been dry for so long and farmers are running out of options. There will be longer-term impacts for all farmers, especially those who were forced to sell their capital stock."There is a lot of pressure around decision making. Do we carry on feeding stock and wait for space availability at the meat works or sell at a lesser price but save on the cost of feed?

 

"Farming has changed, it's not just a shed full of round bales to feed out in the winter anymore. I was fortunate I was able to keep all my capital stock and we got there in the end. However, moving forward is an unknown. Our spring was average with westerly winds sucking out any moisture we did get. "We aim to have summer crops planted the beginning of September, but we were over a month late because of the dry this year. When we planted our oats the lack of rainfall stunted their growth and when they finally began growing and were ready to graze, the nitrate levels were too high, therefore the stock for the oats had to remain on maize silage for several more weeks," Michael reports. Shereden Station has brought in palm kernel and nuts to give young stock an extra boost.

 

"I always have a lot of supplementary feed on hand, however growing these crops only happens if we get the rain.You have to be flexible; you can't stay stuck in your ways. It's about changing farming policies to meet the demands of what nature brings."