Tokanui Dairy Research Farm

May 2009

A new dairy research farm for AgResearch

AgResearch is closing No1 Dairy and No2 Dairy at Ruakura and moving the cows to Tokanui, Waipa, where it is spending $6 million to establish a new 800-cow dairy research farm with two milking parlours.

Ruakura campus has long been a centre of dairy research in New Zealand, where the low-input, pasture-based systems were developed, refined and commercialized, leading to dairy equipment manufacturing excellence in the region. Ruakura under director Campbell McMeekan from 1943 to 1962, became the countrys leading animal research facility with up to seven semi-independent dairy units located on or nearby the 500ha-plus campus. Trial work carried out on these dairy units was supervised by scientists and actioned by farm staff members. Only No1 Dairy and No 2 Dairy remain part of AgResearch, now run together by utilising an underpass under Ruakura Rd. That is because No 2 (on the south side of Ruakura Rd) has an old herringbone dairy built under McMeekan in the 1960s and No1 has a small rotary. Both these dairies need upgrading to meet the future needs of scientific researcher and developments, but that expenditure cannot be justified on leased land.

Ruakura campus consists of three land units central core of 61ha perpetual lease, 235ha Tramway renewable lease and 264ha Silverdale lease, all now vested in Tainui Group as part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement. AgResearch will relinquish the Silverdale lease in May 2009 and move all dairy cows to Tokanui. The milking platform on the Tramway lease will go back to dry stock. The only milking cows left at Ruakura will be the transgenics herd in a containment facility.

Tokanui is a 340ha farm owned by AgResearch alongside the decommissioned mental hospital south of Te Awamutu, which was closed in 1998. The farm was given over for research purposes in the 1970s and passed to AgResearch on its formation in 1992. There was a dairy unit on Tokanui many decades ago, then it became a sheep and beef farm, and in recent years the main use has been contract research work for commercial partners involving grazing heifers, yearling cattle and calf rearing in the converted wool shed. Farm manager Ken Jones, who has been on Tokanui since 1974, will speak on the history of the site and past research work.

When he arrived mental health patients were still occupied in milking cows through a six-stand walk-through as part of their treatment, but that shed was knocked down soon after. Tokanui carried 4000 Romney ewes and 500 Angus cows and some stock work was done on horseback.

In recent years commercial grazing and calf rearing have been the mainstays, including 800-900 calves a year reared in the converted 4-stand woolshed. Old fencing coming out was seven-wire battened, to be replaced by five and three-wire electric. Seven metre-wide races extend over the milking platform, made of soft rock with a locally sourced covering.

AgResearch believes Tokanui is the ideal site for a research dairy farm, with 11 of the 12 neighbouring farms already dairying.

The $6 million dairy conversion project for Tokanui will create a 200ha dairying platform for 800 cows initially, increasing to 1000 cows. The current pastures and farm infrastructure are good, but need upgrading for a modern, large-scale dairy farm. Being built are two dairy parlours under one roof, a 60-bale rotary and a 20-bale rotary, with a rectangular holding yard and automatic drafting exits operated by electronic cow identification tags. The EID system also enables milk diversion for quality control and testing in a research context. Supplementary feeding will deliver to each milking bale. The farming system proposed is System 3, using Dairy NZs definition of production systems that is 10 to 20% of total feed imported to extend lactation (typically autumn feed) and for dry cows. This will include in shed feeding, feeding pads for 400 cows and storage for some 350,000 kg of dry matter in order to provide 500 kg of supplementary feed per cow annually. The feed pad and feed storage can be doubled in future.

The building work and equipment is being sourced locally where possible, with milking plant from Milfos. The main contract builder is Don Chapman, from Morrinsville.

Water supply for the new dairy farm is coming from 100m bore delivering 80 cumecs/hour.

In recent months as the fences came down, Ken has been turning surplus grass into conserved baleage and hay.

The effluent ponds have been dug and an effluent spreading system is being installed.

Geoff Balme says the objectives of the dairy farm conversion can be split between primary and secondary goals.

The primary objectives are a commercially credible dairy farm; while at the same time allow the undertaking of science and research in high intensity dairying, high forage systems and differentiated milks.

The secondary objectives will include a raft of other development activities. It will provide educational opportunities in co-operation with Wintec and Coalition of 21st Century schools, showcase dairy technology and practises for Innovation Waikatos South American initiatives, focus on the ongoing development of dairy technologies and support the proposed Food Innovation Network.