Big input cuts, production barely wobbles

Ron Pellow, executive director of SIDDC. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Ron Pellow, executive director of SIDDC. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Reducing nitrogen on pasture need not be a detriment to great results when it comes to dairy farming, research by the Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF) shows.

The SIDDC (South Island Dairying Development Centre) runs the Lincoln University Dairy Farm on behalf of the university.

In 2010-11, the centre determined the farm should focus on productivity and efficiency to lift profitability, and operate within its historical environmental footprint.

In 2014-15, faced with a declining milk price and changing nutrient regulations, the fully irrigated, pasture-based Canterbury dairy farm chose to reduce its use of imported feed and nitrogen fertiliser.

It then matched the stocking rate to the revised feed supply, while seeking to maintain profitability among the top 5%.

``With a low milk payout and choosing to constrain the farm's nutrient losses, we've had to push efficiency to levels we previously thought were unattainable,'' Ron Pellow, executive director of SIDDC, said.

Ravensdown is a partner of SIDDC, along with Lincoln University, DairyNZ, LIC, Plant & Food Research, AgResearch and Side.

The partnership was a natural alignment for the co-operative, said Arron Hutton, a principal consultant for Ravensdown Environmental, who works with the LUDF team.

The Ravensdown environmental team and agri managers were working with many farmers on how to be smarter with their inputs and improve their farming systems.

``We've been undertaking whole-farm soil testing at LUDF for several years, allowing us to gather enough data to see trends across each paddock and ensure we're getting maximum performance out of the pasture.''

The results achieved by the LUDF showed careful planning and getting the right advice paid off, for the bottom line and the environment, he said.

Average performance for the past three seasons resulted in over 510kg/ms per cow and 1780kg/ms/ha. Farm working expenses averaged $3.70 per kg/ms, resulting in a ``reasonable level'' of operating profit, Mr Hutton said.

Modelling estimated nitrate leaching losses were now more than 25% lower than the 2009-13 baseline period.

The use of imported feed during lactation and nitrogen fertiliser were now nearly half what the farm previously used, while average milk production was down only 2%.

Mr Pellow said the results had been achieved by intensifying the focus on pasture management and better matching feed supply (pasture) and stocking rates.

Feed previously required for maintaining a larger number of cows was now available for increased milk production.

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