IFMS Walton project

April 2006

Waikato Innovation Park, which is a major regional initiative for Waikato, has conceived an integrated farm management systems (IFMS) approach to dairying (the largest business sector in the region).  The idea is to connect the latest technologies on-farm to create the advantage of greater profits, productivity and environmental sustainability, while providing a showcase and proving ground for local dairy technologies.  The project's goals are aligned to the New Zealand dairy industry's "Dairy 21 Strategy".

It is aiming to optimise the systems already in place on the high-producing Bennett's farm, plus introduce new technologies by harnessing the commercial sector to create the most profitable, productive, sustainable farm in New Zealand.  The project team believe they can deliver an extra 2.5% profit and achieve the goal for the Bennett's of a 10% return on assets.  The project has been underway for about 18 months and in autumn 2006 many further pieces of equipment and systems will be installed.

Derek Fairweather, Chief Executive of Waikato Innovation Park, emphasises the IFMS Walton project is not about taking a punt on new technology.  "This is all about a calculated business decision on what will deliver greatest gain for the farmer.  Getting the right technology means pushing up dairying profitability, while delivering greater milk supply for the industry and increased returns to farm owners", says Fairweather.

The majority of Innovation Park tenants and Waikato AgBio cluster companies operate within the dairy industry.  The Innovation Park's role is "to be a catalyst for dairy industry growth by truly understanding the needs of our country's farmers. We can then translate farmers needs back to Waikato technologies that can help fulfil those requirements", says Fairweather.

Commercial partners in the project are: AgResearch, Agricom, Dexcel, Gallaghers, Hi-Tech Irrigation, Livestock Improvement Corporation, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), Telecom, Rezare Systems, Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) and WaikatoLink.  A technology lab in Waikato Innovation Park is being set up to provide more information about the technologies and their on-farm business cases.

David and Raewyn Bennett have expanded their dairy farm to 232ha, which has a 175ha milking platform, with the balance for grazing young stock and growing maize.  The herd reaches a peak milking of 930 cows but numbers over 1000 cows in total, at an effective stocking rate of more than 5 cows/ha.  The farm milks 365 days of the year, by having a split calving: spring, autumn and a small number in summer.  The farm has a winter milk contract with Fonterra.  Twelve years ago the property was bought at only 90ha and one extra farm and another half farm have been added 4-5 years ago, after which the herd size increased substantially, from 350 cows up to 900-1000 cows.

The Bennetts also introduced supplementary feeding of maize silage, lucerne silage, palm kernel and brewers grain, to the extent of 50% of feed intake on an annual basis.  Silage made on the property is stored in pits and fed out with a wagon.

A new 54-bale rotary platform from Waikato Milking Systems was built for the start of the 2004-2005 season, which cuts milking time down from five hours in a herringbone shed previously.  The property achieves over 2000kg MS/ha, making use of an intensive feed pad which can accommodate 450 cows easily and the whole herd if needed. The effluent which is produced from the feed pad is concentrated with nutrients and would provide enough recycled nutrients when irrigated over the whole farm to dispense with additional fertiliser applications.

Innovation Waikato says the Bennett's farm was selected based on the excellent production history and innovative approach the couple have already taken to increasing their productivity.

The IFMS project goes right across all operations on the Bennett farm, to focus on productivity, sustainability and traceability.  It took a while to find the right farm, which is representative of the way dairy farms are heading, and which was confronted with the challenges which come with large scale operations. The Bennetts are open to new technologies: David in farming systems, animals and environment, Raewyn in financial record keeping.  However being the IFMS is a big disruption to daily farm tasks and carries some risks also.

In-shed technology: The Bennetts had already installed Protrack Vantage herd management from Livestock Improvement, which works from electronic animal ID tags, reading as the animal enters the platform and displaying information on screen. Protrack is interfaced with MINDApro, offering features such as sorting, selecting, action drafts and alerts.  A cow undergoing treatment for mastitis recently got mixed back in the main mob and when she presented on the platform an alert sounded saying "treatment cow", which saved the mastitis contaminating a whole vat of milk.  It can also be interfaced with the Vector automated drafting system on exit.

The IFMS has a Gallagher walk-through dairy weighing platform, from which weights flow to Protrack and MINDApro.  Knowing cow weights helps calculate milk-to-feed efficiency, which then makes voluntary annual culling more informed, leading to more profitability. The IFMS project will likely install milk metering to help with decisions about when a cow needs drying off and when they are suffering from mastitis.

Milk cooling and storage technology: IFMS Walton has the same Farmside RMS technology as demonstrated by Telecom and Bay City at David Walker's Taranaki farm (Rural Delivery, November 26, 2005) for milk temperature and vat volume monitoring. Telecom has also installed wireless broadband to the dairy shed to provide integration with the house/business computer and its various farm management and traceability programmes.  There is also a local wireless link, via a solar repeater on a hill, which connects the house with the dairy, and any other houses on the property.  There will be three web cameras installed at the dairy, for security and for podcasting for publicity by the IFMS.  DTS Refrigeration has installed a heat wrap for the vat which helps maintain cool temperatures, once reached.  A Mahana Blue heat exchange unit will be installed, to use the waste heat generated by the refrigeration plant to heat hot water, saving anything from 50& to 100% of water heating cost, which contributes to 40-60% of the power bill in farm dairies.

Pasture improvements:  A significant area of the farm is being resown with AR37 ryegrass, with novel endophyte, supplied by Agricom, which should result in an 8% increase in milksolids. AR37 will not be available commercially until 2007.

Environmental aspects and sustainability: Environment Waikato, Dexcel, AgResearch, Ravensdown and Hi-Tech Irrigation are having input to this area of farm planning, nutrient budgeting, effluent spreading and monitoring.  As mentioned, the effluent generated from the feedpad is high in nutrients and after running an Overseer nutrient budget, Ravensdown said that effluent spread across the whole farm, where practical, could remove the need for maintenance fertiliser applications, saving $80,000 annually.

New travelling irrigators and reticulation from Hi-Tech will be installed, along with flow meters and cut-off switches.  The existing system has a PTO pump and two canons.

Environment Waikato is working with the Bennetts on riparian planting, water quality and other aspects of sustainability.  Whole farm planning means planning for environmental, economic and social sustainability of the farming enterprise.  These three main aspects of farming are often going hand in hand and are sometimes referred to as the "triple bottom line" when considering the performance of a business.

On behalf of the regional rate payers, Environment Waikato manages natural and physical resources in Waikato, guided by the Resource Management Act (RMA).  Many farm practices that are good for the environment also make good business sense and can provide a sense of pride and satisfaction.  Fenced off bush remnants can look attractive, as well as provide better stock management and increase the property value.

Farming sustainably may also help secure future market access and live up to NZs trading image. Some seemingly restrictive legislation can be turned around into opportunities and with the help of the latest available information, new research and the knowledge of farmers provide the basis to improve the farm business.  An Environmental Farm Plan is prepared in consultation with the farmer on a voluntary basis.  It considers the main land and environmental issues present (or not) on the farm, and provides management options including cost estimates and available grant assistance from Environment Waikato.  The issues considered are: Soil Health, Water Quality, Pasture, Shade & Shelter, Pasture, Biodiversity, Biosecurity, Greenhouse gases, Flooding and Drainage.