Environmental, Owl Farm (Waikato)


2 min read

Key findings

Owl Farm in Cambridge focuses on benefiting the school, students, community, and dairy sector. Over the past five years, this 160-hectare dairy unit shifted from a system dependent on purchased feeds like maize silage to one that relies more on pasture and feed grown onsite. This change increased profits and reduced both CO2 emissions and nitrogen leaching. Exploring future options, de-intensification further decreases emissions and boosts profits, though balancing emissions reduction with profit becomes challenging. On the other hand, intensifying and investing in infrastructure like feed-pads can spike profits but also increases emissions. It's crucial to align profitability strategies with environmental goals for a balanced approach.

Owl Farm, owned by St Peters School in Cambridge, is a demonstration farm run for the benefit of the school, the students, the local community, and the dairy sector.

Looking to increase profitability, Owl Farm, a 160-hectare dairy unit, has over the past five years transitioned away from a farm system that relied on purchased maize silage and PKE towards a system more reliant on pasture and other feed grown on the milking platform. While increasing profit, Owl Farm has also reduced its total CO2 emissions by 15.4%, and decreased N leaching from 41 to 33kg N/ha. This has been achieved by reducing total feed eaten and the farm’s N surplus.

Two future options were investigated to further reduce N loss while at least maintaining performance on the farm’s wagon wheel of goals:

  1. De-intensification showed a further reduction of GHG and N leaching while increasing profit providing pasture eaten can be maintained with a lower stocking rate and cost reductions achieved. As the farm becomes more efficient at growing and utilising home-grown feed, it becomes more difficult to reduce emissions without compromising profit.

  2. Intensification and investing in infrastructure showed that profit can be increased by 41% before interest on the $750,000 investment, and by 27% accounting for the interest on the investment. However, this option increases Owl Farm’s GHG emissions, because of increased total feed eaten, and is not in line with the goal of reducing their environmental footprint.

Key findings

  • A focus on improving profitability resulted in reducing total feed eaten and reducing the farm’s nitrogen surplus, with reduced N loss and emissions while improving profitability.
  • As the farm becomes more efficient with growing and utilising home grown feed it becomes more difficult to reduce emissions without compromising profit.
  • Investing in infrastructure, such as a feed-pad and standoff pad, can increase profit and reduce N loss but will increase farm emissions.

“Through the GHG partnership project we focused on harvesting more home-grown feed.  We reduced inputs, reduced outputs and improved profitability and environmental outcomes. We became more aware of the relationships within a farm system and farmer goals. We now compare our GHG emissions profile with our other Wagon Wheel KPIS so that informed choices are made on how our system evolves to meet our goals. Aiming for higher profitability we make sure that investment is in areas that reduce our emissions and add true productivity.”

- Jo Sheridan, Owl Farm manager

Change from current system De-intensification Intensification
N leaching (%) -14% -7%
GHG losses (%) -13% +2%
Profitability (%) +21% +41%
Last updated: Aug 2023
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