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Another growth spurt for equity partners

Another growth spurt for equity partners
Dunsandels’s Tony Coltman and Dana Carver were part of the FRNL project and have achieved a significant reduction in their nitrogen losses on farm.

A Dunsandel based equity partnership is going through its second expansion in two years after securing a 50/50 sharemilking position on another dairy unit. The new position is on a 292ha effective farm milking 1150 cows and complements the partnership’s existing 510ha farm milking 2150 cows. The farms are supported by a 155ha leased block.

Equity manager and director at Datona Ltd, the 50/50 sharemilking company that runs the farms, Tony Coltman, says that the purchase has taken the equity partnership – operated under Canlac Holdings Ltd and Rahi Partnership Ltd – even further in its aim to create a strong sustainable future with the original farm in its second season after a farm next door was purchased and a conversion undertaken. The original 1400 cow equity partnership became a 2150 cow operation, with total farm area rising from 335ha to a 510ha effective platform.

By taking 100ha off the existing Canlac Holdings farm it became 235 hectares effective milking 950 cows. The new Quantum Dairy is 275 hectares effective milking 1150 cows. Although it has two sheds – a 50 bail and a 60 bail rotary – the farms are run as one business.The Rahi Partnership unit is located 15 kilometres away.

Tony says the focus is now on improving this unit including re-grassing and subdivision. The farm has 11ha of fodder beet which will be sown into new grass next season in addition to re-grassing another 10-15ha. The 50 bail rotary shed has also had improvements with the addition of Protrack and Tony says automatic cup removers will hopefully be the next investment.

Around 16 staff are employed in the business and another important reason for purchasing the Rahi Partnership farm was to create a stable, loyal workforce that had opportunities to advance, says Tony.“Management will be able to buy into the partnership if they want to.

We need good people to run our farms so it’s about retention and creating opportunities,” he explains.Due to the growth of the business Tony is now not so hands on and has taken an operational role moving between the farms and taking charge of ac-counts and recruitment: “I’m basically head office,” he jokes.

Wife Dana Carver, who works full time for DairyNZ as a senior developer, also assists.In growing so rapidly the main challenge has been to deliver the same performance. This boils down to the right people and systems.

The target is to achieve 1,050,000 kilograms of milk solids on Canlac this season and 500,000 kilograms on Rahi Partnership while keeping farm working expenses to $3.50-3.70. The overall combined target is 1.6m kilograms of milk solids.Environmental concerns are also at the forefront of operating a large dairy farming business, par-ticularly as Canlac Holdings operates in the Selwyn Wahora catchment, which goes into Lake Ellesmere.

Canlac Holdings has been a monitor farm forDairyNZ initiative Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching (FRNL), which they joined in order to get ahead of environmental issues facing the dairy sector. The aim of the six-year programme was to reduce nitrate leaching losses with proven pasture and forage crop options.

He says the outcome was a reduction in N loss to water by 48%. Canlac Holdings is now a companion farmer for the Selwyn Hinds project, which aims to set farmers up to adopt specific practices to reduce N loss.

“It’s basically the next step on from FRNL, it’s about farmers sharing their ideas and putting in place farm specific solutions,” explains Tony. “We have reduced N usage, increased our effluent area, improved irrigation and changed to a lower protein supplement from grass to maize silage.”

A collaborative six-year programme researching how to reduce nitrate leaching on farm has won a Significant Achievement Award.The DairyNZ led programme recently received the Significant Achievement Award from the Canterbury Section of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science.

The award is sponsored by PGG Wrightson Seeds.DairyNZ senior scientist Dr Ina Pinxterhuis says over 100 people and ten commercial farms have been involved in the science, development and farm application of the Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching (FRNL) programme identifying pasture and crop options farmers can use to reduce nitrate leaching.

“We’re all extremely pleased to receive this award, and we are even more delighted to see that many farmers have been following the programme and have already adopted some of the lower nitro-gen pastures, crops and practices into their farm systems to improve their environmental management.”

The programme drew on a cross-organisation team from DairyNZ, the Foundation for Arable Research, Lincoln University, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, and Manaaki Whenua -Landcare Research.

Eight PhD and post-doctoral students have been part of the programme along with several Honours and Masters students.“We started in 2013 when farmers and the community were looking for better tools and farming practices that could help reduce nitrates in their systems and ultimately reduce any impacts on freshwater and groundwater,” says Dr Pinxterhuis.

As part of the programme farmers trialled a range of options to reduce their nitrogen leaching by 20 per cent. Most of the farms – nine of which were based in Canterbury – achieved their targets, with some farms also managing to achieve even greater reductions in nitrogen losses.

“The options the farms used included planting low-protein feed crops such as fodder beet, and pasture species like plantain and Italian ryegrass which result in less or diluted nitrogen excretion by animals and more nitrogen uptake from the soil.  The farms also planted catch crops like oats after a main crop to use up residual soil nitrogen through plant growth and reduce nitrogen leaching.”

Dairy farmers Tony Coltman and Dana Carver made a number of changes including introducing fodder beet, reducing fertiliser use and using plantain on their Dunsandel farm.

They were able to reduce the farm’s nitrogen losses by 36 per cent over the life of the project, while cow numbers increased by five per cent.Tony Coltman says that he joined the project because he wanted to help finding a solution to reduce nitrogen losses.

He says the results are, “giving us the confidence to start cutting back on nitrogen and changing the way we do things.”“Many farmers are keen to adopt new ideas which lead to better environmental outcomes and there’s been a lot of farmer interest in FRNL across New Zealand.

“With the use of crops such as fodder beet and plantain already becoming more widespread, FRNL has provided guidance and confidence to farmers on how to use the crops and the benefits they provide. “We expect that more farmers will adopt the practices trialled in this programme in the future,” says Dr Pinxterhuis.

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