Mother Nature sets Whanganui livestock market

By Iain Hyndman

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Farmers are engaged in a futile battle with Mother Nature as the Big Dry takes grip.
Farmers are engaged in a futile battle with Mother Nature as the Big Dry takes grip.

Once again Mother Nature has crowned herself the ultimate kingmaker.

Even though factors underpinning the New Zealand sheep market are looking reasonably rosy, the Big Dry is dominating to keep farmers on the back foot.

International price and demand is strong, mutton is at near record high prices and the New Zealand lamb schedule is holding well above last year's kill price. However, booking killing space at this time of year is a futile exercise and attempting to offload stock at the saleyards is almost mission impossible.

Processing space will remain tight well into February with Christmas, New Year, Wellington Anniversary and Waitangi Day statutory holidays meaning short weeks at meat plants.

Independent Whanganui livestock consultant and commentator David Cotton prides himself on his ability to describe the market simply be looking to the sky.

"This environment we find ourselves in is a prime example," Mr Cotton said.

"I've always said 'show me the weather and I'll show you the market'. Last month I started by saying spring is finally here, well that only lasted a week then we were straight into summer.

"There are those who got the rain, over two inches in some areas with thunder storms, while on my farm at Kai Iwi we received 16mm six weeks ago and nothing since

"It's the lowest rainfall I have recorded in my 25 years for that time of the year. We have also experienced wind which has conspired to dry the ground out. We have gone from knee-high mud in the winter to ground baked like concrete.

"This scenario also played out in the market place. Look at the prime lamb price still holding at $7/kg compared to last year at $5.65/kg. The mutton price is the highest I can remember at $5/kg in November, but still $4.70 last week compared to $2.90/kg last season — that's a massive 62 percent increase in price.

"The store market started with a bang in early November with sale reports of over $3.50/kg for 30kg store lambs and $3.97/kg being paid for light 22kg store lambs, my records show $2.80/kg last year.

"I thought it was about time the hill country farmer got a fair lick of the ice cream, but it was short-lived with no rain over the country for the mid part of November causing the store market to crash back down under $3/kg with light lambs hammered back to as low as $2/kg and that's the ones that were sold. A number headed back to where they had come from, so the only person making any money on those days were the truck drivers that still get a load both ways."

Then, Mr Cotton said last Friday's Feilding lamb market crashed with auctioneers battling to find homes. The average price plummeted to around $2.30/kg, well behind last year's price.

"Even though the killing price is stronger and international price and demand is good, the weather is the kingmaker."

The cattle market has also felt the effects of the dry with schedules back off the $6/kg highs to the 300kg prime ox averaging $5.50/kg and bull $5.40/kg.

"Most farmers are more worried about getting space than the price. As you would expect the shine has also come off the store cattle market, but in saying that the market is still firm. I'm asking Father Christmas 'please send rain and the store markets will bounce back over night'."

- Whanganui Chronicle

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