Southern Dairy Hub

May 2017

A new centre for dairying and science in Southland


In January 2017, work was underway converting a sheep farm into a Dairy Hub at Makarewa, near Invercargill. It is designed to be a commercial dairy farm as well as a centre for science and research. The aim of the project is to develop a new research and demonstration facility for Southland – and importantly to add some scale to research that has been done previously.

Planning started about four and half years previously. The old Southland Demonstration Farm was ending its lease and the leasor was looking to take back the lease. 

The trust that was running the demonstration farm starting looking for another property and settled on a sheep farm owned by the Alliance Group. (The Group’s Makarewa Meat Processing plant is located directly across the road). A neighbouring dairy young stock block that had been leased for a number of years was also sold to the Southern Dairy Hub. The project is in the process of converting the two properties into a fully self contained dairy property to run cows for 365 days a year. 

Southern Dairy Hub chairman, Maurice Hardie says the hub needed to be in a good location – close to Invercargill and the main highway and they wanted sufficient scale to be able to run up to 800 cows.  The properties meet both those objectives. 

At the start of the planning the dairy payout was reasonably stable, but as it has fluctuated over the last few years, costs have had to be cut in some areas. 

The farm is just under 350ha. The majority of that is on the west side of the Makarewa River and the balance is on the eastern side. The latter block (38ha) is likely to be a young stock block. 

The project was initially budgeted at $26.5m, with investment from AgResearch ($5m), DairyNZ ($5m) - who were involved in the earlier Southland Demonstration farm, and the Southern Dairy Development Trust which has support from farmers and businesses who invested over $1.25M. 

Maurice says Southland needs a demonstration farm because it is a different and unique dairy region. He also argues that the hub will do something that no other dairy research farm does, which is to offer some scale to the research that will be carried out on the farm. 

At full production there will be in the region of 800 cows, farmed in four groups of 200 cows. This means there will always be one control group and up to three experimental groups being run at any given time. Maurice says he believes that running this number of cows means the resulting research should be robust enough to be applicable to commercial dairy farm practice. 

Funding is in place and the business partners are all in agreement. Consents were granted for water and land use. Building consents for a cow shed were granted in early January. Soon after this the project was underway, with lanes under construction and foundation work begun for the dairy shed. 

DairyNZ and AgResearch have been heavily involved in various parts of the planning for the setup of the new farm so that research can be integrated easily into the farming operation. DairyNZ senior scientist Dr Dawn Dalley says that level of involvement means there will hopefully be minimal impact on the day to day running of the farm.

The plan is for the cowshed to be ready to accept stock in mid-May 2017. In the meantime, races need to be built and a major re-grassing programme needs to be undertaken. 

The whole aim is to put the research into a commercial setting. Dawn says a lot of thought has been put into how to do additional measurements from a science perspective without requiring more time and labour from the farm business. AgResearch has also been heavily involved in a range of projects looking at environmental mitigation, including landscape design features.

Dawn says the hub is a really exciting opportunity for the Southland industry – involving scientists, farmers and industry bodies. As aside from the commercial scale the farm offers, the Southland environment is unique and the Hub offers a great location to trial research that is particularly relevant to the region. 

For the 2017/18 season, Dawn and her colleagues have set up a crop feeding comparison trial. Fodder beet and kale crops are already in the ground that were planted just before Christmas 2016. She says the plan is that 3 mobs of 200 cows will be offered a different feed treatments : one getting 70% fodder beet, another group getting 90% and a third group will be fed kale. 

At the end of the winter the cows from those three treatments will be split across the four farm systems being run on the hub. 

Fodder beet has been adopted rapidly across the country and Dawn wants to examine some of the carry over impacts of fodder beet in terms of animal nutrition and reproductive performance. She says there’s anecdotal feedback that there are some mineral nutrition issues - so they want to look at the mineral intake of the cows under these different treatments and how that is affecting some of the metabolic processes, especially in early lactation. 

Although the work is focused on animal performance she says there will be an opportunity to further test earlier research on some of the environmental impacts of crops, using catch crops.