Plan through El Nino

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Top of everyone’s mind is seeing the same weather patterns that were experienced during the last severe El Nino. There will be valuable lessons from 1997/98 and I’d encourage farmers who may be new to an area to talk to farmers who managed through that season."  

November 27, 2015

Plan through El Nino

With NIWA predicting that El Nino will continue through summer, now is the right time for farmers to put in place a pasture and stock feed programme.

Aaron Stafford, Science Manager at Ballance Agri-Nutrients, has been monitoring the strengthening El Nino trend and says NIWA is predicting a ‘virtually certain’ chance of the current El Nino climate pattern persisting into summer, with indications that this is likely to be the strongest El Nino episode since the 1997-98 season.

“Top of everyone’s mind is seeing the same weather patterns that were experienced during the last severe El Nino. There will be valuable lessons from 1997/98 and I’d encourage farmers who may be new to an area to talk to farmers who managed through that season.

“The result of an El Nino will likely be higher rainfall in the western and southern parts of the country and very dry central and eastern areas, with a more extreme drought risk,” he says.

In the areas where conditions look likely to be dry, Aaron is advising farmers to make the most of the rainfall while it lasts by developing a plan to maximise grass growth and animal production early on in the season.

“Focus on the opportunity to apply nitrogen, such as SustaiN, now while there is still reasonable soil moisture to deliver grass growth and production early on. For example, greatest lamb growth rate are achieved while lambs are still on the ewe, hence increasing feed supply over spring with nitrogen can help you to finish as many lambs as early as possible.  This may help to capitalise on a more favourable early lamb schedule, while also taking pressure off pastures when things start to get drier.  For some farms, using a bit more nitrogen may also provide an opportunity to take more supplementary feed off and feed it to stock later on when the soil dries.

“Crops can provide high quality feed on farm, and can be very cost-effective when done well. Think about the type of summer crops you are using, and use more drought tolerant species like chicory or lucerne. These plants have deep roots and will grow through the dry summer period. Or, if you are using other crops, like turnips, get them in early so they become well established before it gets dry.

“Farmers on the wetter, west side of the country can take advantage of the extra rain and may be able to use nitrogen to promote additional growth through the summer, as long as conditions remain suitable. Take care to avoid pasture damage through pugging with the wet soil conditions experienced this spring, by rotating and moving stock often.” 

Even light to moderate pugging damage can compromise early season production, with up to 40 percent reduction in annual pasture production recorded with more severe pugging damage. 

Aaron says feed budgets should be updated regularly and will indicate when nitrogen applications will be most advantageous, with early being likely to be best.

“The key to profiting from nitrogen is utilising the resulting extra feed effectively. It needs to go into filling a feed deficit or it should be turned into high quality supplement,” he says.

Ballance is encouraging farmers to talk to their local nutrient specialist about strategies for coping with El Nino this season as advice will be tailored to their local region.

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