The couple, whose property has been the Hauraki Plains Focus Farm since 2014, summarised their progress during a final field day in June. The focus farm has now wrapped up and the committee is confirming its next steps.
The Websters and their team have increased production by 24kg MS/cow, reduced supplement by 550kg DM/cow and lowered FWE from $4.98/kg MS in 2013/14 to $3.51/kg MS in 2015/16. At a standardised milk price of $6.50, farm profit increased from $1696/ha to $3103/ha over two seasons.
Michael says a culture change that saw a greater focus on pasture was a big part of achieving the results.
“We changed our mindset – all our energy went into pasture first and getting all the team to focus on growing grass and thinking about it as the number one source of feed,” says Michael.
Better monitoring of pasture enabled effective decisions that flowed into other areas.
“In the last two and a half years we only missed two farm walks. Having that information there is so much easier because it flows into allocation, it flows into residuals and week-by-week you can make little tweaks. Plus, if you want to pick up the phone and sell cows, or buy supplements or put on nitrogen, you can have absolute confidence in what you are doing,” says Michael.
Savings made on feed
Around $50,000 was saved by reducing imported feed, taking into account the increased spending on nitrogen – but smarter decisions around when and where it was applied maximised its effectiveness.
The couple have also turned their attention to regrassing. While there is no permanent crop on-farm, chicory is used as a summer feed, which helped with plans for new grass.
“Before the focus farm project started, only a small percentage of the farm was new grass less than 10 years old,” says Michael. “Even when the payout kept dropping, that was one thing we didn’t want to remove from our budget.”
Other savings were keeping young stock at home until late in the season and bringing heifers home earlier to avoid winter grazing rates and monitoring their weights. Smaller savings were from spending on needs not wants.
Farmer-led group offer local info
The focus farm project, supported by DairyNZ, was set up by farmers in 2011 to demonstrate the profitability gains possible on a typical Hauraki Plains dairy farm.
The committee, known as P3 Trust, selected Michael and Megan Webster’s farm as a focus farm in 2014, after concluding the project’s first phase on Angus and Karen MacInneses’ property. Information including rainfall, grass growth and production figures are provided to local farmers, and insight into some management decisions.
The committee run regional events and provide regular email updates. The next step is to provide data from a range of monitor farms on different soil types.
To receive focus farm updates contact Phil Irvine by email at email@example.com or visit dairynz.co.nz/subscriptions.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy August 2016