Pasture Renewal Programme

August 2010

The effects of a pasture renewal programme on a Waikato dairy operation

Phil Sweny has been involved with a pasture renewal programme for about four years. He’s committed to the idea of renewing pasture but still has questions about the finer detail.

Phil and his wife Deb farm 125ha at Te Kawa, south of Te Awamutu. They took the decision to embark on their pasture renewal programme after going to a field day.

Phil, who had spent ten years with AmBreed, had been breeding for traits other than production for some time, but found that his pastures were letting him down.

At a stocking rate of up to four cows/ha he felt he couldn’t afford to take out more than five percent of his total pastures for a conventional regrassing programme, but at that rate, improvements weren’t great enough for his liking.

Having heard about the 18-month programme approach, he decided to have a go.

The regressing initially took 20% of the farm out of production (which in a drought year is a big ask). Paddocks are sprayed out and put into a short rotation ryegrass (ie. Delish) along with chicory. This is grazed over the winter and then in October it is sprayed out and a turnip crop direct drilled.

This is where John Austin’s flash seed drill was used and Phil is thrilled with the results. He says he was initially worried about planting in non-cultivated soil but he was rapt with the result. He also says he’s learnt heaps about the process and is a convert to direct drilling (especially because it doesn’t disturb the soil structure).

The turnip crop is grazed over January/February and then sprayed out and put into permanent pasture.

One issue this year which may or may not be connected to the use of the drill is that insect control becomes really important. This year Black Beetle has been a major pest problem.

The monitoring done by Chris on Phil’s farm shows that although the DM yields do decrease (as expected) over time the increase in ME is retained which has helped increase milk production even in the dry seasons of recent & current times in the Waikato.

A ballpark of an extra 15T of DM at 1 extra kjoule ME gives 100 kgsMS/ha which at a $6.00 payout is worth $600/ha.

Chris says this year has clearly been a tough year and has put extra pressure on farmers. He also says farmers aren’t always getting the right information and their expectations aren’t getting met. He says the black beetle issue has amplified that discontent.

Phil isn’t a fan of the new endophyte grasses (Endo 5 etc.) and feels that they just aren’t doing the business – despite benefits of higher ME. When he was first featured by the pasture renewal folk he prophetically said he was looking for to seeing how the new ryegrass cultivars would go. He says they aren’t persisting as well as he’d hoped. He says he has gone to fescues this year.

As part of the process, he has also become a big fan of chicory and aims to get it spread over the whole farm. Its ash soils can cope with wet winters but dry out quickly in drought. Chicory, with its long taproot, is able to access moisture deeper in the soil and kept those parts of the farm where it had been sown green during last summer’s drought.

Where paddocks have been sown with chicory, it represents around 25 percent of the pasture, less in winter. Rather than direct-drilling chicory and clover seed, Phil has had excellent results by simply broadcast-spreading it.

In the 2009 season the herd was producing an average of 2.2kg of milksolids (MS)/cow before the end of September, dropping below 1.7kg MS only in mid-January, a significant improvement on previous years.

DairyNZ (Chris Glassey) are carrying out regular pasture cuts and will monitor the ME values until 2011, which Phil believes will prove the effectiveness of the programme in scientific terms too.

Meanwhile, he intends to continue the programme across the rest of the farm.

Another benefit of the programme has been to reduce the incidence of ryegrass staggers on the farm.

“We always used to have trouble with grass staggers, but we haven’t this year,” he said.

He uses Delish AR1 as the short rotation ryegrass for the first stage of the pasture renewal programme, and Barkant turnips for the second stage. He experimented with Green Globe turnips, reputed to keep better, but the yield was not as good and the cows didn’t like them as much as the Barkant variety.

So to get round the problem he plants two crops of Barkant, three weeks apart, with the first grazed in January and the second in February. The permanent pasture he was initially using was Banquet 2, chicory, and Kopu2 clover.