Drought in the north, wet weather in the south and the impact of Covid-19 processing delays mean farmers throughout the country are now facing significant feed deficits.

Industry modelling suggests deficits range from 10-30%, depending on the location and Waikato-based farm consultant Bob Thomson says there is a North Island-wide shortage of feed. While it is possible to introduce feed such as palm kernel to cattle, it is much more challenging for sheep and supplementary feed options for ewes are both limited and expensive.

Northland has had some rain, but Thomson is hearing reports of nitrate toxicity as crops and pasture come away. There’s still some ‘standing hay’ on hill country pastures in Waikato and this has provided valuable feed but with recent rain, the quality of this is fast disappearing.

Farmers are being urged to stay off pastures in the wake of rain to allow covers to build, but he understands the difficulty with this when feed options are so limited.

The situation in Hawke’s Bay is dire and a number of initiatives are underway to help support farmers in this badly affected region.

Farmers struggling with feed resources need to understand the size of the challenge.

“You need to understand the feed supply, the extent of the feed demand, identify the gap and what you can do about it – knowing is far better than wondering.”

Thomson is one of the AgFirst consultants working alongside the Ministry of Primary Industries, Federated Farmers, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand to help farmers plan their feed management.

This industry-resourced service, which was launched in April, offers feed budgeting and professional farm systems advice.

In the first instance, farmers will get an assessment of their feed planning needs by their relevant industry or levy organisation, from there they can access an advisor who can discuss management options and avenues for practical support.

For farmers who require more in-depth support, they will be referred to a farm systems consultant, but there will be cost to this service.

He says they are giving farmers a hand to get the numbers together and to create a plan about how they will get through the winter.

“It’s about sharing the problem, there is no shame in getting someone to give you a hand to put the numbers together – second opinions are usually valuable even when confirming you’ve already covered all bases.”

Thomson, who jokes about being around long enough to have lived through many droughts and floods, says the service is also about sharing the experiences of others.

Some strategies might include pushing breeding cows a bit harder, as this stock class has come through a dry summer in good condition and carefully managing ewes to try and build covers for spring while protecting their performance.

“It’s not ideal to knock condition off them but they might have to suck it up to get through to October-November when we can expect to see a surplus.”

“It’s about feeding on needs not wants.”

To get through this winter, he says it important farmers have trust and hope.

“Trust that the plan is the best it can be and you have thought of everything.”

It is also about trusting advisors, friends or colleagues to act as a sounding board and provide advice.

“A problem shared is a problem halved, it’s an old cliché but it is so true, and of course you have to have people around you who you can trust.”

Retaining hope is critical and Thomson says farmers need to remember they will likely have feed surpluses next spring and will be wondering what to do with it all.


Farmers are considering a range of supplementary feed options this year and recently developed feed tables will help them make informed decisions about the best feed for their budget and stock requirements.

Put together by BakerAg for B+LNZ, the feed table provides drymatter (DM) and energy (MJME) content of a wide range of supplementary feeds as well as a breakdown of costs per kilogram of DM and MJME.

B+LNZ Extension Manager Mark Harris says the table includes a number of less commonly used feeds such as tapioca, canola meal, corn gluten meal, broll and vegetables.

He says the costs provided were the costs of the feed on April 20, so while these may vary, these will at least give farmers an indication of the relative value of different feeds.

All of the costs are exclusive of freight and while energy (MJME) is a critical value, other nutritional factor should be taken into account when farmers are looking at purchasing non-traditional supplementary feeds.

See Tables:
To calculate cost of feed:
a) Unit (eg tonne, bale, bag)
b) Unit weight (kg)
c) Dry matter %
d) kgDM/unit = b x c
e) Cost
f) Cost per kgDM = e/d
g) ME
h) Cost per mjME = f/g Example calculation: Balage bales Unit weight = 450kg. Dry matter = 37% kgDM/unit = 450 x 37% = 166.5kg. Cost = $90 Cost per kgDM = $90 / 166.5 = 54.1c ME = 10. Cost per MJME = 54.1c/10mjme = 5.41c/MJME.


One couple, who were pro-active in using the service when it first became available, say they were given some very valuable advice and a feed budget they could work with.

They had many sleepless nights before talking to Beef + Lamb’s Mark Harris and AgFirst’s BobThomson.

The couple (who did not wish to be named) found themselves in what they describe as the perfect storm. Experienced farmers, they bought their undeveloped hill country sheep, beef and deer farm in the South Island one year ago and walked straight into a drought.

While they knew the first couple of years were going to be tough as they invested in capital fertiliser and a fencing and development programme, they had not bargained on the combination of drought and an inability to shift stock.

They had bought some supplementary feed but it was not enough to meet the demands of the extra mouths they unexpectedly found themselves carrying and the cartage costs of shifting supplementary feed out of other parts of the country was prohibitive.

They knew that some outside help would be valuable, but the budget wouldn’t stretch to a farm consultant, so they grabbed the opportunity to use the free feed budgeting and advisory service when it became available.

“There is always someone who has dealt with worse situations who can share their experiences.”

They urge other farmers dealing with stretched feed resources to use the service.

“It’s ok to put your hand up and benefit from some fresh thinking”.

“We really encourage people to use the B+LNZ feed service and get advice because someone else might think of something you haven’t thought of, no matter how experienced you are.”

To access this service, phone these toll-free numbers:
Dry stock sector- Beef + Lamb: 0800BEEFLAMB (0800 233 352)
Dairy sector-DairyNZ 0800 4 DairyNZ (0800 4 3247969)
This service will be available until 30 June 2020 at which time farmer need will be revised.


AgFirst has compiled four farmer case studies to allow other farmers to see how a range of management tools and plans have been successfully applied in areas of the country with feed deficits.

They include a farm overview, options analysis, gross margin comparisons, a detailed breakdown of the decision-making process, practical considerations and next steps.

The level of detail included in these case studies allows farmers to see the whole decision-making process and cost analysis as well as the practical implications of the management changes.

These can be found on the Beef + Lamb NZ website.


In recent weeks Waikato-based AgFirst consultant James Allen has been working with multiple organisations to help coordinate the drought response. This has included the pulling together of the MPI, Federated Farmers, B+LNZ and Dairy NZ Feed Service and allocating support to sheep and beef farmers using the service. He has also helped develop farmer case-studies for B+LNZ and is putting together fortnightly feed surveys for MPI. This means he has a finger firmly on the pulse of feed supplies throughout the country.

Recent rain has helped ease the feed situation in Waikato and parts of the Northland, but despite pasture growth rates of 40-50kgDM/ha/day in these areas, farmers will still be well below target pasture covers on 1 June. While Taranaki is faring better than other regions Wairarapa is a mixed bag.

Hawke’s Bay is by far the most severely affected region with pasture growth rates ranging from 0 to 10kgDM/ha/day.

The situation in North Canterbury is mixed, with some parts receiving reasonable rainfall, while Central and South Canterbury are doing well, thanks in part to irrigation. Conversely, too much rain in Southland means winter feed crops are well below target.