Solutions for excess mud need to be planned

Environment Canterbury land management advisers Ian Lyttle and Tom Byrne, based in Timaru,  share the top queries that come through from farmers in winter.

How is the winter going for you? At the start of June, you would have said it has been a dream run with your winter feed but, after some recurrent rain and heavy showers, the mud is now appearing and the hill-fed rivers contain more sediment.

 

Tom and I have been thinking about winter feed and the inquiries we are getting from farmers. Here are our answers to four of the most common questions.

I know there is a bit of mud about, but what can I do?

The best solution for dealing with excess mud starts well ahead of winter. Have a plan for when the weather turns and the soil starts to pug and make sure it’s shared with your team.

Your plan could include a run-off paddock or a feed pad and you may need to lift your fodder beet, so you don’t have to transition stock off and then back on to the paddock when the weather improves.

Planning ahead also means you can leave your swale areas grassed to filter out sediment in the run-off.

Don’t forget that a compacted, pugged soil will have a negative impact on the future production of that paddock.

What do you know about these catch crops?

Catch crops are becoming more important as the research shows their effect on reducing N losses and in contributing financially to the business.

The secret is to get them in early if you can and to use cool-tolerant crops with larger seeds (oats, barley, ryecorn, annual ryegrasses).

As they grow, they take up nitrogen and reduce leaching risk. The crop can be grazed, taken for silage or even harvested for whole-crop silage or seed. Your Overseer can recognise the contribution these crops make to reducing nitrogen leaching.

What do I have to do to get my winter feed right for next year and keep the auditor happy?

With the greater interest that auditors are taking in winter feed (including the new FEP guidelines on winter grazing), you should be already be thinking about next winter.

Having a plan for winter grazing, ideally within your farm environment plan, is now expected. Firstly, pick the right paddock — with less slope and opportunity for off-grazing. Leave any swales grassed and, to allow stock to graze strategically, make sure there is access from the top and either several water troughs or portable water troughs. Set up the paddock, with baleage placed in autumn.

If you’ve made a winter grazing plan, this will cover the areas of risk and what you will do to manage those risks. In brief, it’s important to protect your waterways next to the paddock, to avoid steep areas and to get stock off to prevent soil damage.

How is the new national policy statement for freshwater going to affect my winter grazing?

Well, it hasn’t been finalised yet, but we know that the Government has recognised the risk that winter grazing creates and is going to introduce new measures to reduce contaminant loss to water and ongoing soil damage. It has been proposed that higher-risk winter feed practices and locations will require a resource consent from the regional council, with the trigger for consent being based on size, slope and setback to waterway thresholds.

The proposal also brings in stricter rules around wetland protection and stock exclusion, including setbacks from water bodies. There is more information in the proposal on the Ministry for the Environment website or contact our land management team on 0800324-326 for information on better winter grazing.

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