An AgResearch survey which found most New Zealanders would try eating insects does not surprise the country’s first locust farmer.
Reflecting the wide range of farming in the town’s hinterland the theme for the conference is Land of Diversity and Opportunity. Local organising committee (LOC) chairman Herstall Ulrich says there’s everything from horticulture to high country merino.
“The region also boasts many associated industries; meat processing with two major plants, milk processing including one of Fonterra’s bigger plants at Clandeboye, and vegetable processing to name a few.”
But the widest land use remains pastoral farming which is always the dominant topic for papers presented at the conference. This year these include the latest science on pasture renewal, novel forages, pasture pest management and environmental impact and mitigation.
NZGA president, David Stevens of AgResearch, says for farmers and their agricultural industry business partners the conference is an opportunity to hear from and quiz the scientists who are taking the industry forward.
“More than ever farmers need a good grounding in science to make good decisions for production and the environment. The conference relays good, practical science that’s been peer-reviewed and that they can be confident of if they decide to deploy it on their farms.”
The information flow at the conference is always a two-way process, he adds, with the practical points raised by farmer and industry delegates feeding into future research efforts.
“It’s really about the interface of science and practice: what works and how can you get it to work. It’s summed up in the association’s moto: fuelled by science, tempered by experience.”
Sometimes questions raised by delegates at the conference give rise to future research and papers presented can be the direct result of points raised at the event three, four or five years previously.
In the afternoons of the conference leading local farms host conference field trips which this year include a robotic but pasture-based dairy farm , intensive sheep and beef finishing with and without irrigation, and a more traditional breeding-finishing operation making use of some of the latest forages.
“It’s quite an exciting region and an unsung hub of innovation which we’re going to look at,” says Stevens.
Irrigation and the importance of water and nutrient management in what’s often a summer dry region will feature strongly too.
“I cannot over emphasise the opportunity this water gives our region’s farmers,” says Ulrich, who has both irrigated and dryland property.
“It allows enterprises which would otherwise be out of the question, gives certainty, and facilitates a diversity of production systems. This conference is visiting farms that showcase that diversity and intensification, but we will also see farms that cannot irrigate where systems to counter the dry and variable climate are being developed, building sustainability and reliability into farming operations.”
Besides the field trips and science papers, for delegates unfamiliar with the region leading local farmers and an agricultural banker set the scene on the opening morning, while on the second morning the keynote Levy Oration provides an industry leader with an open platform to speak on a topic of their choosing. Who that will be isn’t revealed until conference. Previous Levy Orators include Dr John Hay, chairman of the Ministry of Business and Innovation’s science board, and the late Professor Colin Holmes.
The NZGA Timaru 2016 conference is November 2nd – 4th. See www.grassland.org.nz for the full programme or to register.
The New Zealand Agronomy Society runs its annual conference in parallel with the New Zealand Grassland Association’s event so delegates can access the science from both sectors.
“We’re expecting particularly strong interest this year given the importance of the cropping industry surrounding Timaru,” says society president Bruce Searle.
Like the Grassland conference, agronomy papers are presented in the morning of each day and there’s a field trip which will cover specialty seed production, cereals, grass seeds and process crops.
Registration is via the NZGA website, www.grassland.org.nz