​Wasn't there meant to be a drought this year?

08 April 2024

Wasn't there meant to be a drought this year? Well, that's what we were all told, and that's what we all planned for! With 100mls of rain across the Christmas and New Year period, we were hardly out enjoying Christmas cocktails on the deck. Thank goodness for the New Year's rainstorm putting an early end to our celebrations – with a toddler in the house, my stamina to make it to midnight these days is limited.

While these unprecedented summer rainstorms may have dampened 95% of New Zealand's festivity plans, farmers around the country were jumping up and down with the promise of an excellent season-end. Way back in October, we jumped in our New Holland T6.180 and made the call to plant a chicory crop. With drought on the cards, having a crop with a deep tap root provides an added level of feed safety. Chicory can access water deep in the soil with its long carrot-like root when the ryegrass has completely browned off with its pathetic and shallow root system.

Whether or not it is cost-effective to have a chicory crop when you've had 100mls of rain in a month that usually has 10mls is a question for another day. But let's be honest here: drought or no drought, who needs an extra excuse to sit in a comfortable tractor cab, air conditioning on, and radio blasting for a few hours respite away from the daily routine of milking cows? As the mum of a very active toddler and with another on the way, time spent off my feet and in the tractor cab is time very well spent. Between the T6’s outstandingly well insulated cab and Shaina Twain blasting on the radio, I could hardly hear the drum and beat of the power harrow behind me. I was actually disappointed when the paddock had no more soil left to turn, I had almost perfected the chorus of “Man! I feel like a woman” – there is always next season I guess.

Just for fun and to compare results, we trialled two different planting methods this season. Half the crop was direct drilled, and for the other half, we used the more traditional full cultivation method (disced followed by a power harrow with an air seeder). The full cultivation method meant double the time in the T6 (again, I am not complaining), but it also meant double the fuel costs and wear and tear on the tractor. The single-pass direct drill method was a more economical and environmentally friendly option for reduced soil degradation, but had one major downside: SLUGS! Because the soil wasn't turned over fully, the tiny rows left by the direct drill made a sort of Taj Mahal for the little slimy creatures. It becomes a costly crop when you create an all-you-can-eat salad bar for a wild slug population. If only we could milk slugs – we would be the wealthiest farmers in Pirongia with our thriving plump chicory-filled slugs. And before you ask, yes, we applied liberal amounts of slug bait to the crop.

Next year, drought or no drought, we will likely be back in the New Holland planting chicory again. From this year's learnings, we will likely opt for the full cultivation method. The direct drill has its place for other crops during different times of the year, but for us and chicory, the double pass in the dynamic comfort seat of the T6 is where I will be without complaint next season.

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