Build a plan and consider different scenarios. This is the advice to farmers from B+LNZ, processors and farm consultants as the sector faces the prospect of significant supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19.
Similar to during a drought, processing space is already tight in many parts of the country.
Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said rising cases of Omicron in the community have the potential to increase processing delays for farmers.
“Processors have strategies in place to minimise delays as much as possible in the event the workforce is affected by Omicron. However, we’re urging farmers to speak with their livestock representatives about their individual circumstances.”
Sirma notes the situation is compounded by a worker shortage in the processing and exporting sector and global supply chain issues including container shortages, off schedule vessels, delayed transit times, and port productivity.
Mark Harris, B+LNZ’s Eastern North Island North’s Extension Manager says in response to possible supply chaindisruptions and dry conditions, it’s important farmersmake decisions early
He says his years of experience as both a farmer and extension manager has taught him that a seemingly poor decision made early will always beat a good decision made too late.
Mark points to B+LNZ’s tools and resources such as the Extreme Dry Toolkit to help farmers make the most efficient use of their feed resources
Practical advice from industry experts
Waikato based Total Ag Ltd consultant Rob Macnab is encouraging farmers to be proactive and consider utilizing firm store markets in many parts of the country and think about on-farm management strategies in case they are forced to retain prime stock. This includes determining what stock classes should get priority feed.
Weaning calves early, for example, will reduce feed demand from cows and allow the focus to be on feeding the weaners.
With prime stock, Rob says farmers need to ensure stock has plenty of water and that lambs are shifted regularly.
“Draft them and look after the top lambs so that when the works re-open you have the ability to get rid of them quickly.”
Going into mating, lifting the condition of lighter-condition ewes should be the top priority as they will generate the best return on the investment in feed.
While it is too early to make a decision around not mating hoggets to preserve feed for other stock classes, Rob says it should be considered as part of the scenario planning if the worst were to happen with prolonged processing and transport disruption.
Farmers in some areas, such as the Northern Waikato where Rob is based, are facing drought-like conditions which is adding pressure to farming businesses.
“We always expect it to be dry at this time of year, but this year the severity and speed of the drought has caught us all out.”
Rob recommends that farmers in areas facing weather-related feed shortages are extremely proactive now and sell stock into regions where there is still plenty of feed.
“Utilise those store markets now, you won’t regret it.”
As well as scenario planning, he suggests farmers prepare an alternative budget.
Rob says while prices and therefore the budget looks good at the moment, he encourages farmers to consider what the budget would look like if they had to sell prime cattle at a lower weight or price.
Most importantly, farmers need to look after themselves as well as their business.
He says everyone is in this together, so it is important farmers stay connected with friends, family and neighbours, even if it is just a just a quick catch up to see how they are: “Don’t get isolated.”
Southland-based agribusiness farm consultant Deane Carson is encouraging farmers to make a plan of three to five levers they can pull to ease any feed pressures that may arise. “There a more risks on the table than most years.”
He says for each farmer, these levers are different depending on the systems run, location and climate and he recommends farmers order their options in a ‘least opportunity cost’ fashion.
Common options are:
- Lime – for the small nitrogen effect it stimulates.
- Drafting lambs to lighter weights – The opportunity cost of doing so ranges from 20 cents-34 cents depending on individual’s views of the store and prime market.
- Establish an extra paddock of rape or summer forage if there is a risk of carrying cattle into the winter.
- Giberallic acid to get farmers through a short spell of low feed levels.
- Urea – the current cost landed is approximately 37c/kgDM. If there is a risk farmers cannot lift the condition of mixed-age or two-tooth ewes to an ideal Body Condition Score (BCS) of 3.5 for mating, there is margin in using nitrogen fertilisers to generate this effect (based on some assumptions). This means urea can still be justified if it lifts the condition of light ewes or two-tooths to a BSC of 3.5 greater.
Priority feed should be focused on lifting the condition of tail-end ewes for mating. This can return 50 cents/kgDM, far more money than farmers would get from finishing lambs or cattle based on current price expectations.
Deane says if feed shortages were to become more significant, he would expect questions to be raised about capital stock, buying in feed, mating MA ewes at lower weights and grazing out.
“These are currently not on people’s radars.”
Mark Harris also says that where farmers are forced to use to supplementary feed to lift the condition of ewes going into mating, they need to start feeding the ewes earlier than they might think, to give the ewes time to adjust. They will also need to continue supplementary feeding for a short time after mating.
B+LNZ has partnered with other agriculture sector bodies to produce a checklist for farmers to help prepare for COVID-19 (PDF, 656 KB).
Resources relating to managing during feed shortages and supplementary feeding include:
- Guidance on extreme dry management factsheet (PDF, 1.571 MB)
- Extreme dry management toolkit (PDF, 2.3 MB)
- Podcast with Tom Fraser: Tactics for Tight Times
- Supplementary feed guide (PDF, 68.5 KB)
- Video: Drought decisions with the Northland Farmer Council
- Video: B+LNZ Farming for Profit Hot Topic Series: Accounting in-light of drought and COVID-19
Beef + Lamb New Zealand is not liable for any damage suffered as a result of reliance on the information contained in this document. Any reproduction is welcome provided Beef + Lamb New Zealand is acknowledged as the source.