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Sunday, 29 May 2022 10:55

Network of study sites unearth valuable information

Written by  Staff Reporters
Dr Suzi Keeling Dr Suzi Keeling

A network of study sites on hill country farms around New Zealand is now providing a wealth of information and research to help guide farmers around pasture forage decisions.

The 18 study sites, ranging from Lake Hawea in Central Otago to Waiakaia near Gisborne, were established through the Hill Country Futures Partnership Programme.

The $8.1 million programme is co-funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), PGG Wrightson Seeds and Seed Force New Zealand.

The programme focuses on future proofing the profitability, sustainability and wellbeing of New Zealand’s hill country farmers, their farm systems, the environment and rural communities.

It incorporates traditional science research, farmer knowledge, social research and citizen science and has a strong emphasis on forages and providing decision-making tools to help farmers select the best forage option for different land management units.

Dr Suzi Keeling, Sector Science Strategy Manager for B+LNZ, provides scientific oversight for the programme and says a key focus has been resilient forages for the future.

“The programme provided an opportunity to test different forage combinations in a number of research and commercial farms around New Zealand.

“Being able to do this in a range of different locations has ensured we have accommodated what farmers are really interested in, while also answering important science questions.”

The 18 locations include 12 forage trial sites evaluating different combinations of forages. There are six sites capturing soil temperature and moisture data (some overlap with forage trial sites) and three focused on assessing native plants as potential forage.

“Through the forage trials, we are looking at how we support farmers to have resilient forages into the future,” says Keeling.

“It is capturing real data on farms to make it tangible for farmers to see how forages perform in different locations. We are also building a large dataset to develop tools that farmers can use to help them select which forages are most ideal for their situation.”

A further outcome of the programme has been the AgYields national forage database, a central repository for all pasture and crop yield data collected in New Zealand to help farmers and farm consultants with decision-making around pasture planning. Planned videos will include showing how farmers can set up their own monitoring on farm and then add their data to AgYields.

Findings from the trials have been made available as factsheets through the Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Knowledge Hub. Plans are also underway to create a series of ‘how to’ videos providing guidance on pasture management.

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