Wednesday, 20 November 2013 09:19

Lack of pasture persistence a recurring theme

Written by 

IN THE 2007/08 drought Wayne Reynolds’ cows chewed covers down to four clicks and average cover across his 154ha effective farm was just 1190kgDM/ha.

 

Production that season dropped from 1200kgMS/ha to 1000kgMS/ha and despite immediately reseeding nearly half the farm, and a quarter of the farm annually after that, it didn’t recover.

“Milksolids were static despite our best efforts, bringing feed in and renewing the pasture of the farm,” he told the New Zealand Grassland Association’s conference in Tauranga earlier this month.

Many others in the area were suffering similarly poor results and were at the point of despair. It was only after a change in endophyte, and perhaps more importantly a rethink of grazing policy, that production started to recover.

“The poor performance of standard endophyte pastures was an issue that was being lost in all the noise around performance of the new [AR1] endophyte varieties,” he recalls.

In 2010 they switched from seed with AR1 endophyte to AR37 or NEA2 endophyte lines, and, having become a Dairy NZ pasture improvement focus farm, made a strategic change to their pasture management. Peak stocking rate was cut from 3.6 cows/ha to 3 (at 430kg liveweight equivalent) and a minimum residue limit of seven clicks on the platemeter set.

Reynolds credits Agriseeds’ Graham Kerr with persuading him to make pasture the priority in the management system, though he admits even after “robust” debate he still didn’t like the message. “It added complexity to our systems.”

Previously, pasture and stock had been the tool to buffer climatic volatility, allowing cow intake, performance, and pasture residuals to drop if necessary. The rule had been six clicks on the platemeter before supplementing for fear of substitution and to maximise response to feed.

His pasture problems were compounded by well-drained peat soils providing the perfect habitat for black beetle. “We felt powerless to prevent the black beetle damage we were seeing,” he recalled at the conference.

But with the changes in place, and a wet summer, production soared 39% in 2011/12 to 1379kgMS/ha, albeit with an increase in supplement use from just over 2tDM/ha to nearly 3.5tDM/ha – over 1t/cow.

Production slipped a little in 2012/13, but it was in the face of a one-in-seventy-year drought and supplement was also pared back to 3.3tDM/ha. At 1271kg/ha it was still their second-highest production ever (see table) and pasture bounced back like never before.

“There was a spectacular recovery after the drought broke, in contrast to previous droughts when the recovery was slow and painful.”

Previously they’d blamed the potential for very dry peat soil to be hydrophobic – ie repel water – for the slow recovery.

Following last summer’s drought only 3-4% of the farm’s pasture needed renewing, so not only was recovery faster, there was a substantial cost saving on previous recovery efforts too.

While Reynolds credits the Dairy NZ focus farm initiative for helping him find solutions, he’s critical of the time it took the levy body to respond to his and other producers’ concerns in the area during the years after the 2007/08 drought.

“For a while we were on our own. There was very little research for our environment. It took a while for it to be recognised that North Waikato was suffering…. We had at least two seasons of lost opportunity. Other areas had recovered from the drought; we hadn’t.”

While that had a big impact financially, the biggest hit was emotional.

“Now, with the coming summer predicted to be dryer than average, I can face that much more confidently and know that I have options up my sleeve.”

*See www.grassland.org.nz for all papers from this year’s, and previous years’ conferences.

More like this

Pasture Summit

Dairy farmers are encouraged to attend the upcoming joint New Zealand and Ireland Pasture Summit forum, which will address whether pasture is still the way forward.

A focus on pasture resilience

Pasture resilience will be the key theme of this year's Pasture Symposium, which is being held in the Waikato during May.

National

Guy standing for Ravensdown

Former Agriculture Minister and Horowhenua dairy farmer Nathan Guy is standing for election to the Ravensdown board of directors.

Machinery & Products

Helps tame the wind!

Amazone's recently released WindControl System automatically monitors and adjusts the spreading pattern to compensate for the effect of the wind…

First Claas patent hits a century

While Claas has registered more than 3,000 patents during its 108-year history, the company is currently celebrating the 100th anniversary…

JD invests in robotics

Global giant Deere and Co has acquired Silicon Valley start-up company Bear Flag Robotics, which specialises in autonomous driving technologies…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Too many hits?

OPINION: Well-known professional protestor, John Minto has run off at the mouth without checking his facts.

Good question!

A mate of the Hound's thinks it was more than a bit dodgy when DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter