Growing areas need more rain



PARTICULARLY DRY: Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association president Bharat Jivan examines some of his onions.

Shaun Eade

PARTICULARLY DRY: Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association president Bharat Jivan examines some of his onions

Weekend rain has only "dampened down the dust" in the Wairarapa, and onion and potato growers throughout the country are struggling with the dry conditions.

Onion production may be reduced by 10 per cent, and it appears potatoes will also be in scarce supply at harvest time in May-June.

East coast regions of the South Island failed to receive the rain that fell in the north, and concern is growing about the impact on the Canterbury economy.

Canterbury-based transport and contracting company Woodley's said the need for casual workers had dropped by half compared to last year and in some areas harvesting, silage and transport had completely stopped because there had been no growth due to the lack of water.

Hort NZ business manager Matthew Spence said yields per hectare of onions had been revised downwards.

"Production could be reduced by 10 per cent. The dry conditions will have an effect on the size of the bulb. Production is determined by irrigation, with 100 per cent of the South Island usually full irrigated but they are now on restrictions," Spence said.

Exports would also be affected. Onions are New Zealand's most valuable vegetable exports, worth on average $100 million a year over the past 10 years.

Spence said the best markets of the United Kingdom and European Union had good crops themselves last year "so their appetite for New Zealand onions won't be as keen as in recent years".

Pukekohe onion grower Peter Reynolds, who supplies for the domestic market, said he did not envisage prices would rise.

"Prices are dictated by how much is exported - we growers for the local market are pretty well organised with irrigation and we try pretty hard to look after our buyers. There won't be an over-abundance though," Reynolds said.

It was the combination of very little rain with high temperatures which was causing problems.

"It's been one of the driest Januarys that I can remember - we've had only 6mm of rain in Pukekohe," he said.

Potatoes NZ chairman Champak Mehta said potato growing areas most affected were Pukekohe, Manawatu and Canterbury, the latter relying on irrigation.

"But those Canterbury growers are down to 25 per cent of their total water allocation, and aside from that we are finding bores and wells are also drying up," Mehta said.

"This will definitely have an impact on the yield when we harvest in May-June, but we don't know what that will be. We produce about 500,000 tonnes of potatoes a year; if that reduces even by five tonnes per ha, that's 50,000 tonnes fewer potatoes," he said.

Pukekohe and Manawatu did not have as much irrigation to fall back on, Mehta said. The rain had not been significant enough to mitigate the dry conditions.

Castlepoint farmer and Federated Farmers vice-president Anders Crofoot said his area had received about 11mm of rain, but needed about 50mm. It had "dampened down the dust" but would quickly evaporate.

"Farmers are definitely on edge and are expecting a dry February, but they have prepared for it by destocking," Crofoot said.

Central and southern Hawke's Bay had benefited to the tune of 20mm from the weekend rain, reported Federated Farmers provincial president Will Foley.

He said conditions were now close to a "normal summer" for the Hawke's Bay region. Farmers would have to be on the lookout for diseases such as fly strike and facial eczema, spurred on by the humid conditions.

Farmers were finding that it took a month for stock to be accepted by freezing works from the time they booked them in, because of the extra culling being carried out.

Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon said last week that Fonterra's forecast of a 3.3 per cent drop in milk production this season did not fully convey the severity of this downturn.

"Production was already up 3.7 per cent on a year ago over the first seven months of the season (Jun-December), so Fonterra's forecast implies that production over the remaining five months (January-May) will be down 13.4 per cent on last year," Gordon said.

 Source - The Dominion Post 02 Feb 2015