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Agriculture

Pasture metering proves its worth

Kim Stewart Dec 12
Pasture metering proves its worth
Blair Percy with native fl ax plantings on the 200ha Te Ore Ore dairy unit he farms with wife Deanne. Blair discusses the farm map with contractor Jade Garrity.

Winning the 2017 Wairarapa Dairy Business of the Year award highlighted improvements around irrigation and pasture measurement to Blair and Deanne Percy who have a 200ha dairy farm at Te Ore Ore n ear Masterton.

This has led the couple to move from a travelling irrigator to centre pivots last year, which has allowed them to make better use of water and grow more grass. About 40 per cent or 75ha of the farm is under irrigation with the centre two pivots.

A k-line system irrigates another 30ha. It’s been especially important to make tweaks to this aspect of their system as their herd of 600 kiwicross cows is predominantly grass fed.

Only around 60 tonnes of barley is bought in and fed during calving through the in-shed feeding system and about 700 tonnes of wet grass silage is also bought in.

A 5ha crop of kale is grown on the 24ha run-off to winter 150 cows. A 15ha crop of turnips is sown on the platform.

About 10% of the farm is re-grassed each year. Blair says taking part in a Fonterra trial last season around the benefits of pasture metering has highlighted further improvements.

While Blair had favoured a by-the-eye approach to pasture monitoring he says using a more precise method did result in less wastage and less reliance on supplement.

The couple is contemplating the viability of employing someone to come in and measure the pasture from April to November.

One of their centre pivots has an effluent line so they can spread effluent at the same time as the water. Blair says that further improvements could be made by extending their area of effluent spreading from 75ha to 100ha – something else highlighted by the competition.

Storage is thanks to a lined pond, which gives them greater control over when they spread.

The system has moisture probes that indicate when the soil is becoming too wet as well as an automatic cut-off feature. Farming with an eye to the environment has been a real focus for the couple who won the Greater Wellington Ballance LIC Dairy Farm Award in 2013.

They say they aim to be 100 per cent compliant and there is still work they want to do including planting trees.

The Percy family has been farming in the area for 150 years and Blair is the third generation dairy farmer and initially trained as a mechanic.

Deanne is a townie and a qualified baker before she met Blair. The pair went farming in 1996 when a job became available on the family farm. They milked 288 cows.

By 2012, the farm had grown to milk 1400 cows on 470ha. A second shed was built and 200ha divided off which the couple bought and now farm on.

While Blair is in charge of the day to day running of the farm Deanne does the administration for their business, Goodlands Partnership, and for the Percy family farm next door as well as the calf rearing mating management and relief milking.

It’s an important aspect of their business and their attention to detail can be seen in their results for the year they were judged upon: a return on capital of 2.3 per cent and an operating profit margin of 17.6 per cent.

Their cost of production was $3.40/kgMS, and operating expenses were $3.82/kgMS. Last season, the herd averaged 358kgsMS to produce 215,000kgMS.

Blair says the farm is recovering after a very wet winter and slow spring with production currently down by 4%.

He believes their target of 210,000 kilograms of milk solids is still achievable.

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