Case Study 7: Craig Dettling, Macarthur, Western Districts
When I spoke with Craig for the first time, six months back (early last summer), he indicated that as the farm is in a marginal non-traditional dairying area it is set up to deal with summer dry spells that occur every year and to take advantage of any summer rain that comes.
His planned strategies focused on culling and drying off from December until the autumn break and having crops available for cows to graze over the dry summer periods and all of autumn.
When I caught up with Craig recently in this second interview, he said the following;
"From early summer up until Christmas pretty much, we kept getting rain so we were still grazing pasture until then, which is a good month longer than normal. We put crops in and then half way through, our irrigator started playing up. But because we had such good early summer rain, we didn't worry about it too much. Then in the second half of the summer from January onward, it got really dry, as we didn't get any more rain. Effectively they are dry land crops, so with that early summer rain, despite the dryness later on, it all worked out fine. And given all the other feed we had, summer was good for us in the main overall".
"Probably coming into early winter now, in hind sight you could argue that we should have got the irrigation back up and going. We had all our hay locked in and had enough to get us through; as haven't used any more than normal. So we've still come out alright, particularly given our price was locked in when we bought early and we weren't exposed to the higher price from early on. We are just getting the last load in the coming week, which will set us up for a normal winter".
"The autumn was pretty slow as the break was late. We had extra hay up our sleeve (which we are just using now) because of the good rain event in the first half of last summer; so we didn't use it all up as we would normally over summer. And we just started gazing this week. Permanent pastures on the peat flats are still growing especially with these warmer days we've had recently. We haven't had heaps of rain over autumn, so pastures are not wet currently".
"We over-sowed tillage radish (a soil conditioning cover crop) into one of our summer crops. We are using the radish crop mainly for its soil conditioning properties, to break up a bit of a soil pan primarily. Using the radish crop as a feed for us is its secondary purpose. Because it was dry in the second half of summer, it didn't do very well. So we've kept the rape (summer crop) in there and we are grazing that now - we decided to carry that rape through winter into early spring. The result of that decision was much needed extra feed during autumn".
"A wet cold winter is probably the biggest risk for us. At this stage we are not going to get too wet, but things can change pretty quickly. So we will consider destocking – because by the looks of things fodder price wise and milk price wise, buying in extra feed is going to be more costly overall for our situation, than compared to being a bit lighter stocked.
"Pasture growth and cover will be our main trigger points. Feed price and milk price are probably the other main ones. We will continue doing what we are doing now, making the summer crops last as much as possible".
"We plan to start growing the next lot of summer crops, over spring. Plantain species will be the first type we'll plant most likely. Hopefully we get an early start to spring and pastures take off, and that will be when we decide how much land is surplus to set aside for the next summer crops".
"Now that winter has started, we are focusing on looking at the latest shorter term BOM forecasts, rather than looking too far ahead. From what I have gleaned lately, a drier, warmer winter is predicted for this area which will be good for us. So it's a matter of juggling the timing of when to put in the crops and how much of them, as well as how much fodder to lock in around the various forecasts. So it's a fine tuning of proposed plans (trigger points) around the more accurate shorter term (3-5 day) forecasts rather than any major changes at this stage".