Pastoral 21


5 min read

P21 Research programme P21 Regions P21 Focus farms P21 Case studies

Pastoral 21 Next Generation Dairy Systems was a five-year farming programme focusing on lifting dairy production while minimising nutrient loss. The programme set up farmlets in four regions - Southland, Canterbury, Manawatu, and Waikato - targeting region-specific challenges. The key strategies involved reducing nitrogen inputs, capturing urine during high-risk periods, and safeguarding wet soils to minimise nutrient runoff. They also aimed for efficient milk production using optimal pasture management, with nitrogen fertilisers plugging deficits rather than boosting surpluses. DairyNZ collaborated with three commercial farms to apply the P21 methods, sharing advice on successful transitions to the new system and ways to maintain efficiency.

Pastoral 21 Next Generation Dairy Systems was a collaborative* five-year farm programme that aimed to provide proven, profitable, simple, adoption-ready systems that lifted production and reduced nutrient loss.

Alongside the research, the project captured farmer experience through the use of P21 Focus Farms and case studies.

P21 Research programme

Farmlets were set up in four regions (Southland, Canterbury, Manawatu and Waikato) with the aim to address issues relevant to each region, the farmlets:

Aimed to reduce nutrient loss by:

  • Reducing Nitrogen (N) inputs (N fertiliser and supplements)
  • Capturing urine (N) in late summer-winter
  • Protecting wet soils in autumn and spring to decrease sediment and phosphorus runoff.

Maintained milk production with fewer inputs through:

  • Achieving more production per kg of liveweight
    • More milk per cow per day
    • More days in milk
  • Applying well-known principles of pasture management and grazing
  • Using N fertiliser to fill deficits, not boost surpluses
  • On wet soils, using standoff to protect paddocks and grow more pasture.

See DairyNZ Technical Series March 2017 for a summary of the P21 research programme.

P21 Regions


DairyNZ's Scott Farm, Hamilton

Project leader: Kevin MacDonald, Dairy NZ senior scientist

Project goal: To show that an average Waikato farm could increase annual milk production by up to 200kg/ha with increased profit per hectare, while reducing N leaching from 35-50+kg/ha/year down to 20-30kg/ha/year.

Project details: Two 13ha farmlets were compared. One represented a typical Waikato farm (Current), with a stocking rate of 3.2 cows/ha. The other with a stocking rate of 2.6 cows/ha, represents a farm managed more efficiently (Future).

Summary: Using a combination of approaches (lower N inputs, a stand-off pad, higher BW cows) on the 'Future' farmlet, N leaching was reduced by 40-50% over the four winters measured.

However, milk production for the Future system was not improved, with milksolid/ha yields at c. 97% of the Current farmlet. This resulted in net profitability of the Future farmlet being about 5% less than for the Current farmlet, the difference being the cost of the standoff pad. Both farms performed at c. 20% better than the median for Waikato dairy farms.

Download the full site summary here

Further reading on this project.


Massey University's No. 4 Dairy Farm, Palmerston North

Project leader: Professor Mike Hedley, Massey University

Project goal: To develop a practical housing system for the lower North Island region, that combines high production and profit with lower nitrogen (N) leaching and phosphorus (P) loss.

Project details: Two dairy systems, one with cows housed part-time in the freestall barn (2.8 cows/ha). This was compared to a more typical management system with a herd grazed-off in winter and a feed pad used on wet days in spring and winter (2.7 cows/ha).

Summary: By the 2015/2016 lactation season both the standard and housed systems had met the productivity (1,250kg MS/ha) and environmental targets (N and P loss less than 15kgN/ha/yr and 1.6kg P/ha/yr). This was mainly achieved through improved feed utilisation and longer lactations and lower urine N loads, respectively.

In 2015/2016, urinary N loads on pasture, which drives N leaching, were on average 19% lower for the house system compared with the standard system. Using autumn housing only, the subsequent N leaching reduction between the standard and house systems averaged 28% between the 2014 and 2015 drainage seasons. Total milksolids production per hectare was on average 8% higher on the house system than the standard system across the trial period. This increased production was not sufficient to cover the costs of the increased capital investment and supplementary feed required by the housed system. In 2014-2015 season the breakeven milk prices to cover capital and operating costs for Standard and House systems would need to be $4.45/kg MS and $5.75/kg MS.

Download the full site summary here

Further reading on this project


Lincoln University Research Dairy Farm and Lincoln University's Ashley Dene Farm

Project leader: David Chapman, DairyNZ principal scientist

Project goal: To develop practical dairy farming systems that combine high production and profit with lower nitrate leaching.

Project details: The project included two farmlets, one with a stocking rate of 3.5 cows/ha and the other with 5 cows/ha, plus three different wintering systems (kale only, kale and oats, fodder beet only).

Summary: Environmental targets for the Dairy Farm were achieved. Averaged across the 3-year monitoring period, estimated N losses (including wintering) were reduced by >30%. Milksolids production from the farmlet 4% greater than target. Operating profit was driven greatly by milk price, a milk price of $6.30 was the tipping point, greater than this and 5 cows/ha was more profitable, less than this and 3.5 cows/ha was more profitable.

Download the full site summary here

Further reading on this project

South Otago

Telford Farms Dairy Unit, Telford Farm Training Institute, near Balclutha

Project leader: Ross Monaghan, AgResearch senior scientist and Dawn Dalley, DairyNZ senior scientist

Project goal: To investigate ways dairy farmers in the region can manage soils, animals and forage crops during the challenging shoulder and winter seasons, so they optimise their business and reduce their environmental footprint.

Project details: The project included two 110 cow farmlets, plus a 385 cow control herd. One farmlet treatment was managed more traditionally, using winter crop feeding while the other involved the use of an off paddock facility for indoor wintering.

Summary: Environmental targets set for the project were achieved. Averaged across the 3-year monitoring period, estimated whole-system N and P losses were reduced by > 24%, while sediment losses were reduced even further. Operating profits were not increased, however, and milksolids production from the treatment farmlets was 2-3% less than for the control.


Download the full site summary here.

Further reading on this project.

P21 Focus farms

DairyNZ worked with three commercial farms that made changes to their farm system based on the P21 trials:

  • A Family owned and operated farm - Tihio, South Waikato
  • Lincoln University Demonstration farm
  • A Ngai Tahu cooperative farm - North of the Waimakariri River

The focus farm operators had the following advice:

Considering and undertaking change

  • Talk to respected individuals for opinions on options
  • Compare options against personal and business goals
  • Find what the research says
  • Carry out some “back of an envelope” calculations
  • Model chosen options in Overseer and Farmax
  • Develop a year-ahead plan then review, review, review

Operating a "new" farm system

  • Treat the farm like a new farm - In this new system the farm reacts differently. This means more pasture measuring and monitoring to make good judgements.
  • Do the basics well - Use a Spring Rotation Planner, feed budgets and regular farm walks to make a pasture wedge.
  • Less system error leeway Each cow has a greater impact on the bottom line and N fertiliser and supplement is not available to pull the farm out of a hole.
  • Staff - Need to be better at assessing cows and on top of grazing management.
  • Communicate regularly with staff – Communicate what is happening on farm, why it is happening and how staff play a big part in achieving the new goals.
  • Review budgets regularly – Review against plan to determine progress.

P21 Case studies

Eleven P21 case studies from Southland, Canterbury and Manawatu captured farmer experience in:

  • Reducing N inputs (mainly supplements), and
  • using off-paddock facilities to capture urinary N at critical times and protecting critical source areas (soils, gullies and swales).
  • DairyNZ, Fonterra, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, PGG Wrightson, Blue Pacific Minerals, and managed by AgResearch.

Further information

Transitioning onto winter crops

The Pastoral 21 experience (pdf) - The Pastoral 21 (P21) project reviewed BCS gain achieved during transitioning and winter grazing on to fodder beet and two treatments of kale crops over three winters.

Transitioning on to winter crops (pdf) - A critical factor in profitable winter grazing and targeted Body Condition Score (BCS) gain is the efficient transitioning of cows on to crop.

Last updated: Aug 2022
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