Ashley Dene Station

September 2017

Up-scaling research and development at Lincoln University’s Ashley Dene Station

Lincoln University has invested in a new dairy research and development station at Ashley Dene, adding to the suite of research and demonstration assets it already has in the 160ha Lincoln University Demonstration Farm and 75ha Lincoln University Research Dairy Farm.

Ashley Dene Farm has been owned by Lincoln University for over 100 years and has been used for both research and teaching. The land was purchased in 1909 by the Canterbury Agricultural College (as Lincoln was known then). It covers 355ha and is located approximately 15kms west of the Lincoln campus. 

In 1937 it was decided that Ashley Dene should be used to research and demonstrate methods of increasing productivity on the lighter lands of Canterbury. During this time investigations relating to appropriate sub clover establishment techniques, lime and fertiliser applications, and grass species were carried out. 

Ashley Dene has recently been used for both sheep and dairy support, with two major research themes around dry land pastoral systems and dairy wintering systems. The total area in the dairy part of the development consists of 150 hectares (irrigated), which supports a milking platform area, as well as crops and forages for wintering dairy cows. This supports a 400 cow, spring calving herd. In addition, a further fifty hectares is to be developed into an autumn calving, dry land dairy herd, with restricted water supply.

The new 190ha Research and Development Station was created on the farm in 2016. The goal is to conduct farm systems research to improve the profitability and environmental and welfare performance of dairy and livestock farming systems. 

Its proximity to Lincoln and size of the farm means all the Lincoln Hub partners including the University, DairyNZ, AgResearch, Landcare Research and Plant & Food Research, as well as the University’s students, can use it. 

Professor Grant Edwards says Ashley Dene’s size allows research at a larger farm systems scale than the research dairy farm, which carries out smaller component scale studies, focusing on fine scale research with animals, soils, forages and allowing concepts and ideas to be developed. 

He says the lighter soils at Ashley Dene are also very relevant for Canterbury dairy farms, since many of the region’s dairy farms are on those kind of soils.

Grant says the ability to integrate both the wintering and support systems in the research station means research will also be applicable to dairy support operators.

He says a major focus of future Ashley Dene research studies will relate to the environmental effects of different farm systems, adding to a significant body of work that’s already been done there over recent years with cows wintered on the farm.

The infrastructure on farm includes a 54-bale rotary milking plant and machinery using automated Afimilk Technology, as well as a feed pad and stand-off pad. 

Grant says the specific objectives of the farm are:

  • To improve the performance and viability of existing dairy farms within New Zealand, and to develop and test new dairy farming systems in Canterbury, within new and challenging nitrogen discharge limits on shallow, stony, free draining ‘leaky’ soils.
  • To develop systems based on new approaches to animals, forages, soils, and the management of low cost infra-structure, that reduce the environmental impact of dairy farm systems. 
  • To develop robust, low-cost wintering systems for dairy cows that meet profitability, welfare and environmental targets. 
  • To gain an improved understanding of the use cow genetic information across farm systems varying in the level of feeding intensity, and how this affects milk production and composition.
  • To develop and demonstrate approaches to applying the practice of Kaitiakitanga appropriate to Māori and indigenous production contexts.
  • To provide high quality education facilities that enhance the quality and quantity of agricultural graduates and trained rural professionals. 
  • To provide shared resources for Lincoln HUB partners to conduct research into improving environmental outcomes, notably greenhouse gases, soil carbon and water quality.

A number of trials are currently underway at Ashley Dene. One area of interest to the researchers is the use of standoff pads for overwintering cows.

Initial work looked at a range of surface types for cows to be on and what effect it had on their comfort and urination behaviour. Researchers looked at geotextile carpet in comparison with a range of other treatments including stones and woodchip.

They also looked at how long after cows were removed from the platform did it take for E. coli levels and BOD levels to drop away.

More trials on the use of standoff pads will commence later in the winter of 2017.

Prof. Keith Cameron is professor of Soil Science at Lincoln University. He explains that in addition to the standoff pad trials, there are a number of Lysimeter-SCALAR trials. SCALAR stands for suction cup and lysimeter array.   It is a system that has been developed for measuring leaching losses in the paddock. It is the result of a research project that recognised the need to develop a system of measuring N leaching that could accurately quantify leaching under a winter grazed crop without the limitations of current systems.

Previously researchers had to take samples manually from freshly grazed areas twice a week, for five months right through the winter. Another limitation of earlier systems was the need to scale up results from small plots connected to lysimeters to accurately predict leaching over a whole area. 

The new system has a single collection/retrieval site, the top of the suction cup shaft sits below the level of cultivation in soil, and the number of suction cups per unit area has been increased. 

The SCALAR system will potentially remain in the ground for 20-30 years, allowing it to be used in future research to quantify N leaching under a variety of farming systems. 

Results from trials carried out here will help to inform and further develop Overseer - the tool currently in use by regional councils around the country to set leaching limits for farms. 

Keith Cameron says the monitoring of N leaching under fodder beet at Ashley Dene will give farmers a more accurate measure of N leaching on light soils and will also fit nicely with a parallel project looking at catch crops like oats which can be used to mop up excess N after winter feed blocks have been grazed. 

Typically the land remains fallow for three to five months post winter grazing until a new crop is established in spring. The risk of leaching N from this land is greatest during the fallow periods due to the absence of a plant “sink” to take up the residual N at a time of year when rainfall is often higher, compounding the problem. 

Earlier lysimeter studies have indicated that sowing a catch crop could reduce the amount of N leaching loss by 18-46% in a winter forage crop system. The trial also found that the earlier the crop was sown, the greater the reduction in leaching losses.