Dairy farmers nationwide will be able to follow the project, called Meeting a Sustainable Future, which will focus on how farmers in Hinds and Selwyn can meet N loss limits and maintain profitable businesses under the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (LWRP).
The project will build on sustainable farming initiatives many farmers have already begun and an official project launch event is being held on a Canterbury dairy farm on Wednesday, December 5.
Under the LWRP, Selwyn farmers must reduce N losses by 30 percent by 2022 and in Hinds by 15 percent by 2025, 25 percent by 2030 and 36 percent by 2035.
DairyNZ project leader Virginia Serra says the limits are challenging, but the sector is committed to helping farmers achieve them while maintaining resilient businesses.
“This project builds on previous N loss research. It aims to give farmers confidence the limits are achievable,” said Virginia. “Many farmers have been making changes to reduce N loss for some time and this will continue to build on that.”
The project will be launched at A Farm Systems of the Future field day on a Canterbury dairy farm on Wednesday, December 5. The event will explore the host farmer’s high performance and lower footprint, and how other farmers are adjusting their system to reduce footprint profitably.
The Meeting a Sustainable Future project will initially involve a few partner farms making changes to reduce N loss and tracking the impact.
The Canterbury Dairy Leaders Group, which aims to ensure a viable and enduring dairy sector in the region, supports the initiative. Chairman Alister Body says the project will provide leadership for all farmers on what is one of the biggest challenges they are facing.
“This work is a great way for Selwyn and Hinds dairy farmers, along with others nationally, to watch and learn about the best options to reduce nitrogen losses and meet the future goals,” says Alister. “It will be very interesting to follow.”
Virginia says DairyNZ is also looking for other Hinds and Selwyn farmers and rural professionals to be involved.
“Over two years, we hope to be working alongside 50 partner farms, where we can monitor the success of changes to reduce N loss.”
The project will benefit all farmers nationwide. For farmers and rural professionals wanting to know more or be involved, contact DairyNZ. For event information, visit www.dairynz.co.nz/events.
Farmer to test N loss tactics
Ashburton farmer Campbell Tait is one of the farmers involved in the Meeting a Sustainable Future project.
Campbell says DairyNZ modelling provided invaluable information to reduce nitrogen (N) loss.
“It showed us where we could get the biggest impact, sometimes by making relatively small changes.”
Recommendations included smarter decision-making around winter and spring cropping, optimising soil fertility, reducing N fertiliser use on all areas and improving irrigation infrastructure and effectiveness.
He’d considered many of these things before, but the modelling showed where the biggest gains were. More than 30 different management zones were identified in the 2016/17 season and understanding how the different variables affect N-loss is fundamental to making real progress.
“Variability in soil fertility is highly evident on our property. We have grid soil tested down to one-hectare parcels and now use variable rate spreading to correct phosphate and potassium deficiencies within paddocks,” says Campbell.
“This makes for immediate gains in productivity and savings where fertiliser is not required. However, it also enables better use of the nitrogen fertiliser applied, as pasture performance is not being constrained by another mineral deficiency.”
Another key change has been to eliminate nitrogen use on spring cereal crops (following winter feed).
“I had always been advised to apply additional N to ensure the yield was maximised. Now we are focused on minimising loss of N and the spring cereal is solely to soak up the surplus.”
Some other suggestions were a bit harder financially, he says. These options included investing in a feed pad and upgrading irrigation from travelling guns to centre pivots.
Campbell says reducing N leaching by 15 percent by 2025 is achievable, but the 36 percent target by 2035 will be the most challenging, particularly as their farm is currently over its N loss baseline. As a result, they must reduce N leaching by about 36 percent by 2035.
“We’ll have to use a lot of tools to make that happen, and most of all, a sound balance sheet. If we reduce N fertiliser use from 240kg/ha to 170kg/ha, I’d expect to increase supplementary feed use or reduce our stocking rate – there’s surely a trade-off.”
He hopes his learnings and those of the other project farmers will help others identify the best ways to reduce N loss on their farms.
400ha, including support land
800 milking cows, 300 beef calves
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