Farming families across Canterbury are the ones at most risk of the health effects of nitrates in their drinking water, says Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey.
That’s what South Island Dairying Development Centre (SIDDC) executive director Ron Pellow will tell farmers at the South Island Dairy Event (SIDE) at Lincoln University on June 22-24.
SIDDC runs the Lincoln University demonstration dairy farm which aims to show best-practice sustainable, profitable farming.
Research there has shown that an irrigated, low input system was theoretically as profitable as a more traditional system, yet can reduce catchment nutrient loss.
Such tactics as running fewer cows, applying less nitrogen, using very little imported silage and using pasture more effectively were found during the farm’s first season to yield more milk than the previous season, and with 12% less nitrogen loss to groundwater.
“We had voluntarily modified farm management part way through the 2013-14 production season, specifically to lower the predicted N-loss, but these changes had a significant impact on profitability. A range of farm management practices were then evaluated for their impact on predicted N-loss, farm profitability and feasibility.”
The changes to farm management for the 2014-15 season sought to regain some of the lost profitability while further reducing N-losses.
The result, which Pellow will outline in a SIDE workshop, is a more efficient total farm system. This has lifted expectations of profitability from grazed pastoral systems while meeting environmental obligations.
“Different regions have different nutrient constraints so how farmers manage their own situation will be individual to their circumstances. What we’re doing is providing evidence of what can be achieved with the right stocking rate and feed supply.
“The key, after matching stocking rate to total feed supply, is good pasture management.”
Pellow says with the spotlight on maximising profitability during the current low returns, this is a good opportunity for farmers to look at their own per cow performance and farm inputs, with the aim to achieve more total feed going out the gate as milk.
Attendees can customise the conference to fit their interests and needs.