Frontier Farms


6 min read

Why we are doing this research Frontier Farms main project How it works About Frontier Farms Working together with farmers What's next?

Frontier Farms is a research project aiming to keep New Zealand dairy farming competitive globally. Its goal is to develop profitable and sustainable farm systems that can outperform international rivals by 2030. The methodology involves analysing global competitors, designing appropriate systems for New Zealand, and then testing these on real farms. They've initially studied US mega-dairy farms, known for their profitability and ability to scale up, and will soon assess milk alternatives. The key areas of focus for a future-ready farm include the environment, labour, production costs, animal welfare, and transparency. When considering challenges and opportunities, New Zealand has advantages like a favourable carbon footprint but faces challenges such as labour costs.

Keep up to date with results of the extended lactation study as the season progresses

There are two farmlets in the study, one with a normal 12-month calving interval and the other has a 24-month calving interval with half the herd calving each year. We are reporting in near real time a range of results including milk production, animal performance, BCS, liveweight, pasture, supplement and fertiliser use. You can bookmark the results page here and check back to follow progress.

Why we are doing this research

Frontier Farms is a research project launched in 2021 that aims to keep New Zealand dairying ahead of our global competitors.

The Frontier Farms project is driven by the need to retain and grow New Zealand’s global position as a leading dairy producer. It is about assessing international farming systems and products (competitors), and then designing New Zealand-appropriate systems to match or better them.

The overall measure of success is that profitable and sustainable farm systems exist, that are ahead of where the frontier of international competition will be in 2030 when the project ends.

Project status: progressing

Frontier Farms main project objectives

  • Forecast the attributes a farm of the future would need to maintain or improve international competitiveness. Co-design and refine farm systems and adapt technologies that deliver these attributes.
  • Test these farm systems in Frontier Farm demonstrations, taking the risk in piloting the new system and exploring the boundaries of what is possible, to take people on a journey in a relatable and engaging way (through operating a Frontier Farm).

An integral part of the Frontier Farms project is working with dairy farmers and industry partners to co-develop and refine these Frontier Farm systems that deliver the key attributes and outcomes that are predicted to be important to be ahead of our competitors.

Listen on:

How it works

Frontier Farms methodology is structured around a three-step process.

1. Analysis - The project team analyse our competitiveness relative to a global exporter under a range of potential futures and predict what attributes and outcomes our future systems will need to deliver to maintain or improve our competitiveness.

2. Evaluation - Co-design a system to meet this brief.

3. On-farm testing - Establish a farm scale demonstration to test, refine and evolve systems.

Every year the process is repeated by the Frontier Farms project with a new 'competitor', although on-farm testing may be incorporated into existing demonstrations.

Analysis 1: United States (US) mega-dairy farms

The first competitor to be evaluated was United States (US) mega-dairy farms, e.g. farms with over 2,500 cows which are typical in the western US states. They were chosen because they have demonstrated the ability to achieve a high operating profit margin, with an ability to scale up.

While US mega-dairies operate in a covered barn system, the Frontier Farms project is looking at how we can deliver the attributes that are attractive in their systems within New Zealand’s pasture-fed farming model.

Find out more about the United States mega-dairy farms assessment.

Analysis 2: Milk alternatives

In 2022/23, the project team will assess milk alternatives (plant-based and precision fermentation products) to better understand their competitive attributes and determine what market segments we compete in.

Check out part of the assessment, Milk alternatives - separating fact from froth article featured in the February-March 2023 edition of Inside Dairy.

Listen on:

Find out more about Frontier Farms

DairyNZ’s Strategy and Investment Leader for New Systems and Competitiveness talks about our Frontier Farms project in this short interview.

Fieldays 2022: How Frontier Farms will help Kiwi farmers stay world-leading

Video 9:43 min

DairyNZ Strategy and Investment Leader Bruce Thorrold joins Rowena Duncum from The Country on the DairyNZ site at Fieldays 2022, to chat about the new research programme Frontier Farms.

Working together with farmers

New Zealand dairy farmers and rural professionals are working alongside our science team to help develop new farming systems which respond to global challenges and monitor how they perform.

What's next?

The design of the first Frontier Farm is underway, with input from farmers, rural professionals and other stakeholders. The aim is to have the farm implement changes so farmers can better compete with US mega dairies and be operating by August 2023

Last updated: Aug 2023
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