with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd
That change is coming in the agricultural sector is not in question – the only questions are, how big and how soon?
With environmental degradation heading many people’s priority list, it’s almost inevitable the incoming government will grasp the opportunity to make changes that will forever change our farming landscape.
The emotive button is water quality and environmental groups will lean heavily on it and with the urban voice louder than the rural, the outcome is predictable.
Fonterra is already planning for a substantial decline in milk volumes during the next five years due to a reduction in cow numbers, which they believe will be mandated in the near future.
People naturally resist change. We develop patterns of behaviour that provide order and certainty in our lives; and change is made only out of necessity.
Even when the benefits of change outweigh present practices we defend and maintain our current lifestyle until either through catastrophe, peer pressure, or regulation we are forced to adapt.
And in the farming community, particularly the fertiliser industry, the reliance on urea as the primary source of nitrogen for grazed pasture is coming to an end.
Nitrate nitrogen levels
Nitrate nitrogen levels rather than greenhouse gas emissions will be the catalyst for change as a reduction in synthetic nitrogen will necessarily reduce nitrous oxide and methane losses.
Nitrogen for pasture is provided by either synthetic N or that fixed naturally by clover, and less applied nitrogen does not necessarily result in less pasture being grown and fewer kilograms of milk solids or meat leaving the property.
Dairy farmers focussed on providing nitrogen fixed by clover are finding that although early-season growth is a little less, summer and autumn growth is considerably enhanced.
The conclusion of a report by a leading farm consultant, when comparing total farm performance of a Functional Fertiliser client with the district average, follows.
“Based on the above analysis the biological farm performs well in all respects when compared to the district average farm.
“It produces more base pasture, applies less nitrogen, runs a lower stocking rate and still achieves high production per hectare due to exceptionally high per-cow production. This is a very efficient farm system which produces a high farm profit and has less impact on the environment.”
That report was from the 2011-2012 season, when the Functional Farming System ‘biological’ farm grew 18,281kgDM/ha based on monthly cage cuts.
Annual pasture growth has steadily increased since with a high of 21,397kgDM/ha, an average of 59kg DM/ha/day during a 12-month period.
There is a limit to the amount grown, and the growth increase graph has flattened, however resilience has improved with low growth seasons above previous.
A sheep breeding and fattening client on the Canterbury Plains recently commented that he no longer worries about dry summers, not because they don’t occur but because he knows that he’s doing the best he can.
Under a Functional Fertiliser programme pastures grow longer into a dry spell and recover more rapidly after, due in part to the ongoing increase in moisture-holding capacity of the soil as carbon is sequestered.
Soil scientist/agricultural consultant Graham Shepherd, in a Visual Soil Assessment report of another client’s property, wrote that for every one per cent increase in soil carbon levels an extra 144,000 litres of water per hectare is held.
Soils become measurably more friable and plant roots access moisture, and nutrient, from a greater depth further delaying slow growth with the onset on summer.
The programmes are tailored to individual properties based on fertiliser history, stocking rate, and pasture requirement, with now an ideal time to get ahead of the game.
For more information, call Peter on 0800 843 809.