|Beneath the surface
with David Law
Twelve months ago, we launched a project that we felt had enormous potential to not only improve the future of farming in New Zealand but mitigate some of the critical issues facing the industry today. We called it Total Replacement Therapy.
The project’s over-arching purpose is to help farmers: help them tackle the issues that are facing the future of farming in New Zealand, particularly mitigating water pollution, with our key focus reducing synthetic nitrogen use.
Reducing synthetic nitrogen is a crucial component of most of the regenerative farming methods that have surfaced over recent years, as New Zealand and overseas countries race after regenerative ideas like greyhounds after a rabbit.
These methods of farming are heavily based on Gabe Brown’s teachings in the United States, and it is certainly one valid road you can go down to get to where you want to go.
However, before you jump in boots and all it is worth considering exactly what it is you are trying to achieve in the first place. Different methods may get you to the same end, but the journey is going to be very different.
Total Replacement Therapy targets dairy farmers in particular, although it certainly works for any land-based operations.
Our demonstration farm at Whakatane has been the centre point of the programme. Between the commencement of the trial in October 2019 and autumn 2020 we focused on gathering data; and from April 2020 onward, we promoted what we had achieved through social media, newspaper articles, a field day in July and two further discussion groups on-farm.
One year on, the changes we have seen on the demonstration farm are unmistakable.
Alan Law entered the trial using 180 units of synthetic nitrogen and reduced that to 70 units of N by the end of last season. This season, he is on track to reduce N to our target of 30 units.
With the soil balanced, synthetic nitrogen greatly reduced and the planting of a variety of pasture species, Alan was ready to move on to the next part of the process – fine-tuning his grazing and feed management systems.
Alan’s herd is now on a 30-day grazing rotation, and we are seeing some remarkable changes in his pasture. He is grazing his ryegrass to the fifth leaf stage and witnessing a longer rootzone, which absorbs more nutrients.
Alan is letting the pasture grow to 3200kgDM, strategically dropping out paddocks that are longer and cutting them for silage instead of using topping as a grazing management tool.
All these aspects coming together result in a system that is better for the farm, the environment, the grass, the cows and the farmer. Best of all, it has all been done with no downtime, and no loss of profit or production.
Following the process
Something that has become apparent along the way has been the importance of following the process in the right order: if you try to change the management system before you change the soil, you won’t see the results you are looking for.
The soil on Alan’s farm only required a small amount of adjusting before it was balanced, but of the 20 farms currently on the TRT programme, there are some that are requiring more soil balancing before they can move forward in the eight-step process.
The good news is that the farms in the earlier stages of the programme are getting the same results we saw on the demonstration farm: easy reduction of synthetic N, extra grass growth, and rapid recovery of pasture when coming out of winter or a dry spell.
Consistent and repeatable
Over the next 12 months, we plan to build on what we have already achieved. A major focus is to ensure the results farmers are seeing continue to be consistent and repeatable – so if an entire catchment wanted to undertake Total Replacement Therapy, we can be confident they will get the same result.
With our new government, there is already increased urgency to achieve their clean water reforms. As a result, farmers will need a proven, step-by-step method to adjust to the new expectations, which is mainly to reduce chemical fertilisers - particularly chemical, water soluble fertilisers – and synthetic nitrogen.
For help to achieve these expectations, visit: www.totalreplacementtherapy.com