Rising milk production in the Americas and Europe, the COVID-19 pandemic and a strong NZ dollar are making it difficult for economists to forecast the 2020-21 milk price.
So says the Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust (PRCT), which last spring began campaigning to get farmers to get busy on pasture renewal.
"Pasture renewal offers a great return on investment at a time when pastoral farmers are under pressure," says PRCT project manager Tim Wood. "The weaker pay-out for dairy farmers this season has seen a refocus on the importance of pasture."
The message is getting through, Wood says, as evidenced by the 2014 Dairy NZ Economic Survey showing that dairy farmers spent on average only $17/ha on regrassing in 2004-05 – rising to $73/ha in 2013-14.
"Even taking inflation into account, this is more than a doubling of regrassing spending over eight years."
And the 2015 ANZ Business Barometer showed that 67% of red meat farmers spending money on their businesses are forking out on pasture renovation or forage crops.
ANZ quotes a recent red meat case study showing a 35% return from spending on fencing, water, fertiliser and pasture renovation. The top three choices were pasture, fencing and fertiliser. In the dairy sector 55% were planning to renovate pasture or plant more area in crop.
And pasture seed sales are up, says the New Zealand Plant Breeders Association: 2009-2014 pasture seed sales rose by 17%. "Although this has levelled off recently; it shows farmers are recognising the benefits of regrassing," Woods adds.
Wood says PRCT is asking farmers to do something about the difference in the pastures of their best-performing and lowest producing paddocks. This typically could be 100%.
Sales reps who regularly visit farmers are being prompted to ask how this difference can be addressed in a planned way, Woods says. "The 10% goal gives reps a lead in to conversations about pasture renewal and how it benefits farming."
PRCT will reprint a pasture condition score guide – folded to pocket size and waterproofed – for farmers to use in the paddock to assess pasture quality. The guide advises on preferred action and gives ten tips for pasture renewal success.