Monday, 19 October 2015

Plan A, B and C to cope with El Nino


You may be aware that NIWA are predicting an El Nino weather pattern this year. While the name El Nino means “little boy”, the dry conditions on the east coast that it creates can be pretty big.

Already many in the East Coast have noticed dryer conditions than normal for this time of year. Dams are lower, and creeks are at worrying levels.

For those of you who are planning on continuing to plant fodder crops this spring, I urge you to consider making a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C, as your current plan may have to be tweaked depending on when the dry hits, and when the autumn break arrives.

Be prepared for a change in situations, so if you need to slightly alter your plans it’s not a major issue.

In my experience at Ravendsown, dryland species such as rape are commonly planted to provide high-quality summer feed. This type of forage is sown in spring when growth conditions are very good, with adequate moisture and warmth. This allows feed grown in good times to be utilised when pasture production and quality are reducing, due to hot and dry conditions. The advantage of rape is that it can be carried through into winter if conditions stay dry in the autumn; rape can be used for Plan A and/or Plan B.

Lucerne is another option for increased growth over ryegrass in dry, summer environments as it is extremely deep-rooted, once established, and can access water at depths far greater than grasses. Lucerne is a true perennial crop so time should be taken to ensure the best conditions for establishment, to maximise its potential over the years.

  • It is essential for soil nutrient status to be at the optimum for lucerne growth.
  • Plant numbers should be around 500/m2 in the first year, this will drop in subsequent years.
  • Eliminating pests and weeds is very important; it is vital to maximise plant survival.

Red Clover and chicory are other deep-rooted plants that provide high-quality feed during dry conditions, but are not as perennial as lucerne. Red clover will generally start production slightly earlier than white clover so can provide early season production once established. I often see red clover in old, well-managed fodder crop stands, such as plantain and clover mixes. This backs up my experience of seeing it produce further into the dry conditions than ryegrass.

For those farmers in higher areas which have later seasons, it may be time for Plan C.  By November, signs should be there to suggest if it’s going to be really dry or not. If so, it’s best to postpone all cropping until the autumn, after it has rained. This may be easier said than done, but watching a crop fail due to lack of moisture is counterproductive.

The above are just a few options to assist you through the summer months, however, there are many more and the options you choose for Plan A, B or C need to fit into your farming system to maximise the benefits.

We have a team of seven agronomists, in addition to our Agri Managers, that can help you in the decision-making process.