Frontfoot environmental requirements and reduce stress – Graham Smith

Every season there seems to be variations in growth and cow performance that make spring so interesting. I thought that the amount of feed I had going into winter and up to calving would stand me in good stead through spring. Not so! Calving was the fastest it has ever been, and feed demand ramped up quickly. Before I knew it PKE was needed, then silage bales, and lately because of the intermittent spring I have had to follow the cows with urea to keep things in balance. My latest docket shows that I am 16% behind last season. Not an unexpected consequence of OAD. The cows have handled the change very well. Their udders have shown no sign of stress, with the SCC running in the mid 50,000s. Per cow they are doing 1.68 kg solids. With the cows averaging 17.8 litres per day an issue has arisen with the receiving can flooding. This has now been fixed with the addition of 66% more capacity. The tank has had a jetter fitted to wash the far end, which misses out on the surges of wash water coming through. The cows are cycling very well and if I manage to improve on last year’s submissions then next spring will be even busier.

Topic of the times is water quality and this Government’s requirements of us. I feel well set for whatever they throw at me, and it appears it could be a lot. Back when I bought this farm, I soon realised that quite a bit of my soil was ending up at Port Waikato very quickly. I approached the regional council for help, and they sent me out a consultant. He was of immense help as I knew nothing about erosion or how to stop it. The first thing I did was put in waratah groynes in the stream to redirect flow. Behind these I planted Matsudana willows and along the banks I planted both willows and Flevo poplars. This was in the days when you could do your own work in the streams, since stopped due to people’s excesses. Also planted were flaxes and then with a single wire electric fence set back from the banks I let nature do the healing. This worked very well for 20 years with no erosion. Then a new advisor comes along and says those poplars are too big they need to be removed as they are costing too much to deal with when they fall in the stream. Removing them for pulp was a big job, and within five years the erosion started again as the old tree roots died off. So, I planted poplars again, but this time I am pruning them to 8 meters to stop them becoming too branch heavy. They should provide some useful timber as well. Pruning heavily also slows their growth down and lets in more sunlight to my paddocks. The fishermen also like high pruning because their access to the stream is better. The other benefit is that if this land is to be retired, I may as well work it to grow timber and get some financial benefit out of it. Tree felling that close to a waterway is to be restricted but I assume common sense will prevail to allow good management.

So that tidied up the stream and left my eroding hills to be sorted. The council again came into play when they offered to pay for all my hills to be planted in Radiata Pine and Lusitanica (Mexican cypress). The catch was that I had to sign a whole farm erosion plan and legal agreement that would require me to replant after harvest. That has since happened, and replanting was a no-brainer, to eliminate erosion and provide a decent income off those steep hills. Now that we have these new requirements, I feel well placed to handle their needs.

I have since done a Farm Environment Plan and I have no big issues to deal with, which confirms I am on the right track. The plan was easy to do with my Fonterra consultant and doing it early earmarks the little things I need to do, and gives me plenty of time to do them without pressure, physically or financially.

I believe in being proactive because I don’t like surprises, and let’s face it, on a small farm surprises can be expensive! So, in keeping with that idea, I have also done water testing on the three outlets from my farm. The results are in, but I need to digest them and learn more about what they mean, before I report back in the next blog. Also, by then I will have completed a greenhouse gas study of the farm with Overseer FM and should be able to tell you something about that experience as well.

I strongly recommend that you do these studies on your own farm so that you know what is going on, and have a historical record which will show the effects of your work for the environment.

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