Home' NZ Dairy Farmer : February 2011 Contents 44 The Dairyman FEBRUARY 2011
FARMERS battled through a particularly difficult year of natural
disasters in 2010, starting with drought in several regions and
climaxing with the Canterbury earthquake and Southland's
As the country's leading farmer-owned fertiliser co-operative
Ballance Agri-Nutrients was caught up all of these events as its tech-
nical sales representatives worked alongside farmers to remedy the
situation and to get farms back into full production as quickly as pos-
"In some cases it was just a matter of providing financial terms that
suited the farmer so that the right nutrients could be applied to the
land at the right time, regardless of the personal cash flow situation
on farm," says Larry Bilodeau, Ballance's chief executive.
"At other times, we did our best to support recovery efforts insti-
gated by Federated Farmers in cash or manpower terms, and during
the Southland snow storm our farm reps even mucked in to help
farmers save stock."
The first challenge for farmers was the Northland drought,
gazetted as a medium-scale adverse event by the Government in late
January 2010. Ballance worked closely with the Northland Rural
Support Trust and Federated Farmers, taking part in farmer meetings
across the province as the drought worsened.
Within weeks, it was a similar situation in Central Otago,
Canterbury, Rodney, Papakura, Manukau, Waikato and inland Bay of
While farmers in these highly productive areas prayed for rain, tor-
rential rain on the East Coast of the North Island swelled rivers,
closed roads and forced some people out of their homes, bringing
local hill country farmers some welcome relief.
By April, the official drought status had been extended to the
Waikato, Rodney, Papakura and Manukau and within weeks Bay of
Plenty (Western Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Kawerau, Opotiki,
Whakatane and Tauranga), South Taranaki, parts of South
Canterbury (Mackenzie, Waimate and Waitaki) and Otago (Central
Otago and Dunedin City) were added to the official list.
"By now, almost half of New Zealand's dairy herd was in regions
affected by drought, with production dipping as a consequence," said
"It was down about 30 per cent in Northland and almost 7 per cent
in South Auckland, which includes the Waikato."
To rub salt in the wound, the heavens opened over Southland in
late April, causing widespread flooding, with the Oreti River reach-
ing levels not seen since 1999. By mid May the rains had returned to
Northland, accompanied by warm weather that enabled farmers to
get some cover onto paddocks before the winter.
"They faced the prospect of going into winter with low pasture
reserves and coping with significant financial losses. It was pleasing
that we were able to help out on an individual basis."
A series of adverse weather events in September meant farmers
could not apply spring fertiliser when they wanted to either because
it was too wet in the North Island or too cold, or snowing, in the
South Island. Even more dramatically, some Canterbury farmers had
their pastures torn up by a massive earthquake.
The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck early morning to the
west of Christchurch on September 4 added a new variable to the
mix, knocking power out to rural homes and dairy sheds.
"This was all new to most of our farmer shareholders in that
region," said Mr Bilodeau. "Farmers are used to handling whatever
the weather throws at them, but this was a calamity of unimagined
proportions that towered over the best efforts of man.
"We were able to donate some funds and product to the Federated
Farmers appeal and helped with the special earthquake relief meeting
at Darfield hosted by the Ballance Farming Show stars Jamie
Mackay and Dick Taylor."
The next week, farmers in the Tararua region had to cope with sig-
nificant flooding south of Woodville and in the low lying areas
around Pahiatua, and within days their neighbours in the Manawatu
were under water because of an intense weather system that also
brought record snowfalls to Southland.
At least 700,000 newborn lambs perished in the bitter cold that lin-
gered for five days after the worst of the Southland snowstorm, and
the snow didn't thaw quickly because of the bitterly cold driving rain.
"Some of the wild weather made its way into the Bay of Plenty in
late September, leaving some avocado growers to cope with crop
losses of at least 30 per cent. High winds and heavy rain also battered
avocado growers and vegetable growers near Pukekohe, smashing
"By November insurers had received about $47 million in claims
relating to the snowstorm that hit Southland, excluding stock losses."
As a consequence of the unseasonal weather, the busy spring fer-
tiliser application period was compressed severely, placing a strain
on everyone involved in the industry.
"Given such a scenario, we have pulled out all the stops to meet the
increased market demands and expect to be able to satisfy all of our
customers' requirements. Once farmers were able to get their fer-
tiliser programmes underway, we have been very busy and have
made up much of the lost time," Mr Bilodeau said.
To complete a challenging year for those who make their living off
the land, MAF Biosecurity New Zealand confirmed in November
that a strain of the bacterial kiwifruit vine disease, Pseudomonas
syringae pv actinidiae (Psa), was present on some vines in orchards
across New Zealand.
"It's certainly been a tough year for many sectors of the rural econ-
omy. Ballance is proud that it has been able to do its best to help get
farmers, horticulturalists and orchardists through the worst of it, and
we can look to 2011 with renewed optimism."
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