Lincoln University Dairy Farm

August 2008
The pasture management system used at the Lincoln University Dairy farm is the main reason the farm is in the top 1% of dairy farms for production and profitability in New Zealand.

Pasture management methods are

managing the ryegrass to keep it at the three leaf stage when it is maximizing growth

walking the farm every week to measure pastures & twice a week in spring

using proven science and industry best practice ie limit nitrogen to 200kg/year

graphing the information from the pasture walk into a feed wedge

keeping the grass at its highest energy level for the cows

minimizing supplement inputs

keeping a firm lid on costs

Top 1% dairy farm

Adrian van Bysterveldt who used to be a teacher and also a dairy farmer is part of the management team at the Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF). In the past three years the farm has averaged production between 1700 and 1800kgMS/ha, while the average in Canterbury is 1100kgMS/ha.

This is achieved with relatively modest inputs of fertiliser and supplementary silage. Previously the farm had been in the top 10%.

The LUDF is not using new ideas; it is using science developed by researchers back in the 1970s and 1980s.

They have demonstrated how to do it in a large-scale dairy farm, and added the idea of the feed wedge as a tool, which has allowed management to be able to look forward beyond today.

That means they are more confident about decisions and whether they will still be right in a week or two.

Hanging onto more of the profits

Adrian van Bysterveldt:

If you collect a certain amount of information on the weekly farm walk, you build up a huge body of information to make strategic decisions around.

Our philosophy is that to be successful dairy farmers in the long term, you have to plan how to keep more of the profits.

Adrian expects big fluctuations in the price of supplementary feed, so we see that the focus is to do a better job of growing more feed within your own farm and using it there.

As feed supplies get really cheap and if they are of a form we can integrate really easily into the system, we will.

But the underlying thing we are focusing on is what can we do to grow more grass sustainably.

If we do that better we will get better value from our fertiliser dollar. Long term we cant have agriculture if we mine the fertility in our soils. We need to keep on putting maintenance fertiliser.

We do everything we can to grow more grass and to keep our costs down, and make sure we eat it in the paddock because that keeps costs down.

Adrian says there are lots of farms in Canterbury with better soils than they have, and he thinks anybody could duplicate their irrigation system.

We have a system Aquaflex, which was developed by Lincoln University - which allows us to schedule our water use because it has a very quick return interval.

Aquaflex monitors soil water and temperatures and has a 3m long buried sensor tape attached to a logging device and radio sender. Theres a radio receiver at the dairy connected to the computer. It delivers instant and believable data in graph form to the computer in the dairy. It cost $13,000 to buy four soil probes and the telemetry equipment and has very low running costs.

The results from this have been:

Less soil drainage with subsequent loss of nitrogen

Less irrigation, with a saving on budget this past year of $10,000

More confident grazing and pasture management decision making

More confidence to water closer to field capacity with a better margin for breakdowns and less damage from grass grub

The irrigation system: just recently a paper was written comparing irrigation efficiencies of systems across 10 farms including the LUDF. The LUDF was 40% more efficient at converting water use to milk solids compared to the next best farm, and 70% better than the average of the other farms, which were all considered to be doing a good job of their irrigation.

Because we turn the grass that we grow into milk, our pasture management makes us very efficient in a whole number of things including better water use, in terms of our carbon footprint.

To me pasture management going forward is absolutely the key to the sustainability of NZ farming.

The LUDF is having a huge impact on the dairy community in particular.

The last field day in May attracted 300 people, a field day next Feb/March is targeted at urban people from Christchurch.

In February more than 500 people went to a focus day held off the farm.

Several thousand people visit the farm each year. Each Tuesday is a farm walk, and hardly a week goes by without visitors coming along on the walk.

A lot of farmers arent comfortable asking questions during the big field days, so if they are really motivated they have an open invitation to come along on the farm walks. Then they can have two hours in your ear asking questions, and they come along to the management meeting afterwards.

Following on from the LUDF there are a number of other demonstration farms too, one in Southland has been going for a year, and one in the Bay of Plenty has been going for a year. One on the West Coast was going for a few years and hopefully it will be restarted in a year or so.

The big difference we have made is we have demonstrated real value for why you should walk your farm and get a measurement of the amount of grass in each paddock each week.

This gives a lot of management information, and allows us to have a lot more confidence about our decision making, and less worry.

That feed wedge gives a good reliable prediction of what is happening on the farm in the next two to three weeks.

New tools are coming out to help predict growth rates in future, and these are coming out this year. These add more power to the decision making.

Suddenly the farmers feel in control, and no longer feel they are reacting all the time, and they can take a week off and know they are still in control.

I have a picture in my head of how much grass is coming up the production line. Its a wonderful place to be as a manager of quite a large business. That is what captures people.