The Kingstons and Kloppers are always on the lookout for new ways to improve the farm and improve their environmental performance.
"Since Skibbereen was converted the farm has been in a continual state of development to keep up with the change in regulations and to improve ease of management – including installing pivot irrigation, effluent upgrades, soil moisture monitoring and riparian and shelter planting. We see this as an on-going process, and implement science proven environmental solutions as they become available – in the past years I estimate we have spent towards $1 million on improvements. Our farm has joined the Selwyn Hinds partner farm group so we and our staff see what is happening on other farms that can be brought back to continue the improvements at our place."
- Bill Kingston, Skibbereen
Skibbereen is near the coast at Coldstream, just north of the Rangitata River. The farm has been in the Kingston Family since 1947, and was converted to dairying by Bill and Jessmae in 2010. In the 2020/21 season, Johannes and Maree Kloppers - who were previously managing the farm - have started contract milking Skibbereen. There has been a lot of investment in infrastructure over the last ten years including pivots and Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) going in from 2015 to now, and the plan is to finish this project in the upcoming seasons. Skibbereen is operated with strong family farm values, and it is important to the Kingston Family and the Kloppers that everyone who works at Skibbereen enjoys and is proud of what they do.
Skibbereen comes under Mayfield Hinds Valetta Irrigation scheme (MHV), as they have access to a small amount of MHV water, and their nutrient allocation is managed through the scheme. Bill and Jessmae were interested to know how they would be tracking compared to a 2012 baseline.
This was modelled in Overseer and is shown in the table below. It includes a 30% reduction for 2019/20 – this is mainly due to a reduction in drainage through infrastructure changes and irrigation management. In the Hinds catchment farmers are required to make N loss reductions of 15% by 2025 and 25% in 2030. The farm has 50 hectares of mixed pastures that include plantain. This has not been modelled in Overseer but potentially could further reduce N losses on the farm.
The Kingstons have focused on improving their irrigation infrastructure. In the 2020/21 season the farm now has 65% of its irrigators as pivots. Both pivots have Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) to reduce drainage and suit variable soils. Another pivot was also installed at the end of 2019/20. From here, there is a plan in place for some smaller pivots to go in over time.
“Having VRI on our variable soils and with our drains is making our management so much more precise,” says Bill.
“We are feeling more confident that we are doing the right thing, from a pasture growth, environmental, and profit point of view. It also reduces the workload for our team who are not moving as many Rotorainers. We look forward to when we have put in the two smaller pivots across the road.”
However due to the heavy nature of the soils on the remaining Rotorainer area, there may not be as much of an advantage as initially thought in changing this area to pivots from an N loss perspective, as the drainage isn’t reduced.
There are many other benefits which deliver advantages that may not be captured in Overseer. The main ones are labour savings and the ability to turn water off over drains, troughs, wet areas and gateways.
Irrigation and effluent management
Moving from Rotorainer to pivots with VRI has meant increased options for irrigation management. With shallow and variable soils, and management around wet areas due to drains, the VRI is put to very good use. Bill and Johannes are able to see the difference due to changes in the wet spots on farm.
“Where we used to have puddles and pugging, we are now seeing these areas performing like the rest of the paddock,” Bill says.
The effluent system includes two large above ground tanks and a solid separator. Effluent is now injected into the pivot and the team can apply effluent at low rates to a larger area, which on the shallow soils is beneficial and a good use of the nutrients in the effluent.
Currently the team at Skibbereen are working to streamline the information recorded so that it can be accessed in one place. This will make it useful for management decisions, rather than just being used for compliance. Bill says they had so much information but interpreting it was difficult, and they had to use many different systems to access it. By bringing everything together, they will be able to easily access information to make better decisions.
Pasture management and purchased N surplus
To assist pasture management and reduce the use of nitrogen fertiliser and purchased supplementary feed, the farm uses LIC Space pasture cover monitoring to develop feed wedges and predict pasture covers 3 weeks in advance.
This has contributed to better feed utilisation and less supplementary feed use. Over two years the farm has reduced N fertiliser use by 50 kg N/ha down from 245 kg N/ha/yr to 196 kg N/ha/yr while increasing production and has reduced the purchased N surplus from 211 kg N/ha to 152 kg N/ha.