Dairy farming grazing management practices in the Waikato

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Dairy farming grazing management practices in the Waikato

Transcript Of Dairy farming grazing management practices in the Waikato

Waikato Regional Council Technical Report 2011/17
Dairy farming grazing management practices in the Waikato region
www.waikatoregion.govt.nz ISSN 2230-4355 (Print) ISSN 2230-4363 (Online)

Prepared by: Angela Davies and Keri Topperwien
For: Waikato Regional Council Private Bag 3038 Waikato Mail Centre HAMILTON 3240
November 2011
Document # 1528958

Peer reviewed by: Dr Geoff Kaine

Date November 2011

Approved for release by:

Ruth Buckingham

Date November 2011

Disclaimer This technical report has been prepared for the use of Waikato Regional Council as a reference document and as such does not constitute council’s policy.
Council requests that if excerpts or inferences are drawn from this document for further use by individuals or organisations, due care should be taken to ensure that the appropriate context has been preserved, and is accurately reflected and referenced in any subsequent spoken or written communication.
While Waikato Regional Council has exercised all reasonable skill and care in controlling the contents of this report, Council accepts no liability in contract, tort or otherwise, for any loss, damage, injury or expense (whether direct, indirect or consequential) arising out of the provision of this information or its use by you or any other party.
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Thanks are due to the dairy farmers of the Waikato region, New Zealand who gave their time to be part of this research. The support and advice of staff of the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), and that of the Waikato Regional Council is appreciated. In particular thanks are given to the staff of the team of Service Design Research, DPI, Tatura for their support, with special thanks to Ruth Lourey for assistance with the interviews.
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Table of contents



Executive summary


1 Introduction


2 Background


2.1 Nutrient management practices


3 Theoretical framework


4 Method


4.1 Sample structure


5 Findings


5.1 Grazing management


5.1.1 Pasture rotation and grass residuals


5.2 Wintering practices


5.2.1 Wintering on and off the farm


5.2.2 Wet soils management


5.3 Nutrient management


5.3.1 Nutrient budgets


5.3.2 Nutrient management plans


5.3.3 Fertiliser use and application


5.3.4 Effluent as part of the fertiliser regime


5.4 Feed supplements


5.4.1 Grown supplements


5.4.2 Purchased supplements


5.4.3 Feed system


5.5 Riparian management


6 Discussion




Appendix 1


3 Water Module


Appendix 2


3 Water Module


3.9 Non-Point Source Discharges*


3.9.4 Implementation Methods - Non-Point Source Discharges

40 Permitted Activity Rule - Fertiliser Application


List of figures

Figure 1 Dairy farming areas in the Waikato region


Figure 2 Distribution of soils and average annual rainfall in the Waikato region


Figure 3: Accelerating the rate of adoption (source: Kaine and Johnson, 2004).


Figure 4: Increasing the population of adopters (source: Kaine and Johnson, 2004).


Figure 5: Decision tree for wintering on or off the farm


Figure 6: Decision tree for wet soils management


List of tables

Table 1 Summary of farm practices for nutrient management


Table 1: Farm production system classification


Table 3 Summary of farm practices for nutrient management


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Executive summary
Nutrient management is a focus for the Waikato Regional Council due to its role in managing the region’s water quality. Nutrients from the land seep into groundwater, flow into waterways and lead to reduced water quality. Monitoring shows that nutrient concentrations in waterways are increasing across intensively farmed areas in the region.
Related to the issue of increased nutrients in waterways, soil compaction and excessive fertility in the region’s soils are common issues. Stocking pressure can lead to pugging of soils. Pugging results in compaction of the pore spaces in the soil so that water logging can occur leading to nutrients and bacteria running off into waterways. Excessive fertility results when more fertiliser is added to soils than plants can use. This extra fertiliser can leach into waterways or get washed off with soil particles when it rains (Environment Waikato, 2008). These processes mean that there is strong connection between farmers’ grazing management practices and nutrient management.
The purpose of this research is to understand the grazing management decisions of dairy farmers’ in the Waikato region, and relate that to nutrient management issues to give a picture of how nutrient management practices are, or could be, incorporated into the various farm contexts. The focus of the research is on the winter practices that help or exacerbate nutrient management. A companion report focuses on beef and sheep farming.
Asking farmers why they choose certain practices over others, or why they may have made changes to their farm system, can provide insight into the likelihood of the adoption of practices. It can help identify areas of the farm system where farmers are already exercising recommended practices. It can also indicate potential barriers or obstacles associated with certain practices, which could impede the adoption of new practices.
In all, 36 farmers participated in the research through in-depth interviews. Interviews were undertaken in the main dairying areas of the region. A quarter of those interviewed ran grass-based production systems, while the remaining farmers imported varying amounts of feed ranging from 10-35 percent. Herd sizes ranges from 70 to 3900 cows with a median of 470. Soils, climate, rainfall and topography varied, which lead to variation in grazing management practices.
This report presents the recommended nutrient management practices available to farmers and the actual grazing management practices of farmers from the interviews. Grazing rotation, fertiliser application, stocking rates, wintering off and standing off practices, feed systems (including the use of grown supplements) are covered in the report.
The table below draws together the recommended practices with the farm practice to see where practices are currently undertaken and where potential exists for practice change and where barriers exist to adoption. The report contains more detail, including verbatim comments from the participant farmers to illustrate how and why these practices are integrated into their respective farm systems.

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Table 1

Summary of farm practices for nutrient management

Recommended Management Practice Nutrient Budget Nutrient Budgets assist farmers to identify where savings can be made and monitor the amount of nutrient leaching occurring from their system
Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) A NMP provides farmers with a list of actions to mitigate nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) losses from their system
Fertiliser management nitrogen management
Nitrogen management practices include: avoiding applications in winter to reduce the risk of leaching, reducing N rates in line with the Nutrient Budget, using nitrification inhibitors
Fertiliser management – phosphate management Phosphorus adheres strongly to soil particles, which can be transported via overland flow to waterways. Management practices should avoid

Summary of practices and potential barriers to uptake
Uptake amongst farmers was high due to the recent push by Fonterra and the fertiliser industry. Findings from this research indicate that many farmers prefer to use a combination of soil test results, recommendations from trusted farm consultants/advisors and their own experience to determine their fertiliser regime rather than follow a nutrient budget exclusively.
Farmers also liked to retain the flexibility to alter their practices in response to seasonal conditions throughout the year. In general, farmers viewed nutrient budgets as a helpful tool, even if only used as a general guide, and some found that it had led to saving in fertiliser costs.
This study found a general lack of awareness about nutrient management plans, with only two farmers having a NMP. Among many farmers there was confusion as to what a NMP entailed, indicating a knowledge gap in regards to this intervention.
In general, most farmers were applying amounts in excess of the 60kg of N/ha/yr threshold in the Waikato Regional Plan, which requires a NMP to be in place. This implies a knowledge gap in respect of the rule.
The effectiveness of nutrient management plans depends on their successful implementation, and recommendations in a NMP may have significant impacts on a farm system. While NMP preparation may focus on a Nutrient Budget and some best management practices, a farm system based plan prepared by a farm consultant may cost in the order of $3,000 to $5,000. This is a significant cost given farmers are not aware of the advantages, if any, that a NMP offers them over a nutrient budget.
Many farmers avoided application of nitrogen fertiliser during the winter months because they want to ensure pasture uptake. Farmers are aware of the importance of temperature and moisture to get maximum value from their fertiliser.
However, a few farmers did apply small dressings of nitrogen through the winter months, and these were seen as essential to promote pasture growth.
The rising costs of N resulted in a reduction in the amount of N applied for a number of farmers. However, N was seen by a number of farmers as a cost effective and preferred way to provide feed.
None of the farmers we interviewed were using nitrification inhibitors. Farmers were cautious, as there is limited research on the actual benefits in dollar terms.
Nitrogen management was motivated by desire to ensure adequate pasture production; hence, farmers that use nitrogen are likely to resist any suggestions that they substantially reduce their nitrogen use though they may be willing to trial more efficient N technologies.
Three quarters of the farmers had Olsen P levels on farm above the recommended optimum economic return levels of 20-30 for ash and sedimentary soils and 35-45 for pumice soils.
Because of increased costs, a few farmers were withholding fertiliser applications and dropping or “mining” Olsen P levels. Some farmers were dropping their Olsen P levels as nutrient budgets become more of a management tool. However, many farmers viewed their Olsen P levels as ideal and were interested in

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Recommended Management Practice pugging of soils, stock grazing on steeper slopes and near waterways and avoid soluble fertiliser P applications during high risk months, use slow release forms of phosphate fertiliser
Fertiliser management – effluent management
Key recommendations to reduce the environmental impact of dairy effluent systems are to have adequate storage to get through wet periods, storm water diversion in place to divert rainwater entering storage, omit fertiliser N inputs on effluent blocks, increase application area to capture nutrients and decrease fertiliser inputs.
Wintering practices – wintering off, managing wet soils
Reducing stocking pressure over winter by wintering off, that is sending a proportion of the herd to another location when the risk of N leaching is high, or by using stand off areas (stand off pads, feed pads, yards or herd homes) to reduce time spent on paddocks, alleviating soil compaction during the wetter months of winter when nitrogen leaching risk is highest are key strategies to reduce N loss.
Supplementary feed
Imported low-N

Summary of practices and potential barriers to uptake
maintaining them.
Most farmers applied their main fertiliser either in split spring and autumn dressings or in spring.
Uptake of slow release forms of phosphate fertiliser was low with none using these forms currently and only a few having trialled them in the past.
Phosphorus management was strongly motivated by desire to maximise pasture production, hence farmers are likely to resist any suggestions that they substantially reduce their store of phosphorus in the soil.
Almost three quarters of farms had travelling irrigator systems under the regional plan Permitted Activity Rule.
Most systems had limited storage with many needing to irrigate daily. Some had holding tanks or ponds able to store effluent for up to 6 weeks, and some farmers stated they were aware of not applying in wet periods. Those with pond systems under a discharge consent had holding capacity of 3 months up to 5 years.
Most farmers were aware of the benefits of using effluent to replace fertiliser and lower costs, and were modifying fertiliser application on effluent blocks. Some still applied fertiliser when they felt it was needed.
Similarly, some farmers were in the process of extending application areas or had recently extended areas in order to lower costs.
Effluent management was influenced by farm context and existing expensive infrastructure. This suggests farmers are unlikely to alter their effluent management in the short-term.
This study shows that winter management practices are influenced by a number of interconnected factors such as soil structure and susceptibility to pugging, herd size, type of production (grassbased / imported feed) and land availability to manage wet pasture.
Many farmers who were able to keep stock at home during the winter had a strong preference for this action because of the desire to control cow condition.
The cost of wintering off is a major barrier for some farmers. Finding affordable grazing within the Waikato region was not always possible, bringing increased stock transport costs and for inspection visits. Other farmers noted that they had sufficient space to manage their stock on their farm. Therefore wintering off was seen as unnecessary with no added benefit to their management system.
Technologies such as feedpads, stand off pads or herd homes can require considerable capital investment. Of note was the finding that some farmers felt their current practices were sufficient to manage wet soils and stand off infrastructure was considered unnecessary. Conversely, some farmers used their stand off infrastructure extensively through the winter.
Wintering off was strongly influenced by farm context particularly the need to manage feed deficits, water logging and farm infrastructure. This suggests farmers are unlikely to modify their wintering practices.
This study found that the use of feed to supplement pasture deficits depends on whether there is enough space available to

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Recommended Management Practice
supplements can be used to overcome feed deficits instead of relying on N to boost pasture growth.
Crops can support feed deficits, but concentrating large numbers of stock for long periods in cropped paddocks can result in pugging and compaction of soil, increased risk of, P and N loss from urine and dung and transport of faecal coliforms from dung, and damages the soil reducing long-term productivity.
Riparian Management
Riparian fencing can reduce the amount of P, sediment and microbes (such as faecal bacteria) entering the water by preventing stock from trampling banks and accessing waterways.
Riparian planting further helps stabilise banks and block the movement of soil particles from land into waterways.

Summary of practices and potential barriers to uptake
grow supplementary feed, the cost of purchased feed and ability to feed out. Farmers noted that farm topography and soils affected their ability to feed out on paddocks.
In terms of bought in feed, some farmers strongly expressed that the move to a higher input farm was not desirable because of increased costs and management.
Other farmers maintained that N was the cheapest way to fill feed deficits and did not see a financial benefit to either buying in or growing feed.
Turnips were commonly grown as a summer crop and were part of re-grassing programmes. Paddocks were typically grazed bare and then re-seeded. Supplementary feeding practices were strongly influenced by farm context particularly the capacity to grow supplementary feed, the cost of purchased feed and ability to feed out. This suggests farmers are unlikely to make major changes to their supplementary feeding practices to reduce nutrient emissions.
Many farmers reported fencing of waterways and drains. For most, this was done to stop stock wandering and damaging banks. Some mentioned they were aware of the benefits to water quality also.
For some farmers, a barrier to uptake was the threat of recurrent flooding and damage to fencing. This was costly to repair so areas prone to flooding were purposely avoided.
Few farmers mentioned that they had undertaken riparian planting. Those that had felt it made their property more attractive. A couple of farmers noted management of weeds in planted areas was of concern.
This suggests farmers are unlikely to invest in riparian fencing to reduce nutrient emissions.

Summary and recommendations Even though the environmental and economic benefits of a particular practice may appear to be well established, at the farm level there may still be sensible hesitation amongst farmers to adopt practices as the transition to a new practice may be of little or no benefit, involve significant costs, or present unwanted management issues.
This research has shown that there are a number of factors that farmers must consider (such as climate, soils and topography) when assessing new practices. Benefits may not be present for those farmers who in their opinion have sufficient management methods in place to get through winter months. There is some hesitation where there is insufficient information available about a particular practice, for example the use of nitrification inhibitors. For some farm contexts change in practices may simply be impractical, for example a shift from an effluent pond system to land application.
For these reasons, it is clear that ‘a one size fits all’ approach to nutrient management is not suitable and a more nuanced farm level approach is needed. In addition, for some wintering practices such as wintering off farmers will be very resistant to change while other practices (such as type of N or P applied) may be more easily changed.
It is clear from the table above that there are a number of wintering practices that are currently undertaken that align with the policy objective to reduce nutrient leaching, particularly during the winter risk period, and that these practices are generally adopted for the purpose of maintaining farm productivity through managing pasture and stock condition. In addition, from a policy perspective, some practices have been adopted

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FarmersPracticesFeedManagement PracticesWaterways