Potential in clover project to boost quality and quantity
Watergreen Tourere is about to see the first germination of clover seed in the ground as part of a Beef + Lamb Innovation Farm project looking at ways of encouraging and establishing clovers on dryland hill country.
Pete Swinburn, one of the farm owners, admits it is exciting to be on the verge of seeing results, which he has every reason to believe will be promising.
The project is being conducted over 7ha and comes on the back of Pete’s role as chairman of the East Coast drylands forages project, which focused on plantain, clover and lucerne on East Coast dryland country to build resiliance.
The five year project looked at annual clovers new to New Zealand and Pete saw potential for his 500ha hill country block to drive both quantity and quality of feed.
The Innovation Farm project is establishing annual clover, letting it seed then waiting to see the seed germination in 18 months time. Pete says the seed is hard so needs to go through a winter before it will germinate.
The trial saw 12 kilograms of seed sown per hectare, which produced 10 tonnes of dry matter per hectare compared with the four to five tonnes that would normally be produced on that land.
Pete says that after it set seed it dropped 1300 kilograms of seed per hectare – or over 100 times that which had originally been sown.
The Innovation Farm project will run for another year and whether Watergreen Tourere will carry on with the project will depend on results.
“We will measure animal performance and use live weight gains as an indication of qunatity and quality of the clover. We’ll also take cage cuts to measure growth and leaf samples to determine nutrient composition. It’s a costly exercise to get to this point so we need to know it is profitable going forward then we can look at rolling it out on the rest of the block,” says Pete.
Located 20 minutes south of Waipukurau in the Flemington district, Watergreen Tourere is owned by a partnership of Peter, wife Suzanne Hoyt and another family.
The partnership was established after seeing benefits in economies of scale for his and a neighbouring farm to join together and includes two farms totalling 1482ha (1271ha effective) carrying 14,000 stock units. The two properties have been run together since 2011 and are operated by one manager and three staff.
The primary focus is lamb finishing supported by bull beef, finishing 20,000 to 30,000 lambs a year and selling 1000 to 1500 cattle. Watergreen Tourere is a finalist in the 2019 East Coast Ballance Farm awards.
As first time entrants it is an achievement that Pete is understandably proud of. The farms include130ha of forestry, a 16ha QEII National Trust covenant, fenced riparian areas and native bush.
Nearly all the waterways and streams have been fenced off. For 60 years poplar poles have been planted for erosion control and they also provide shelter for stock.
Pete says that one of the goals is to keep N nutrient losses within the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s Plan Change 6 limit.
The farms’ currently sit at 11 versus their allowable limit of 18.6. A mapping programme gives proof of placement and for the past five years nutrient budgets have been undertaken.
The farm is also a validation property for a precision fertiliser project trial using hyperspectral imaging technology, equipment which can see colour outside the normal human spectrum allowing it to determine soil fertility levels down to one square metre.
Peter says that this has given a great indication of soil fertility across the farm making fertiliser application much more targeted. The farm also has a philosophy of direct drilling rather than tillage to protect the soil.
He says looking to see how technology can assist the farming operation is a key focus. For example a few years ago a sheep conveyor was purchased which has considerably sped up this job as well as making it more enjoyable for staff.
The couple has three children: Patrick, 9, Brigitte, 7 and James, 3. Peter says their farming focus is clear.
“The family runs the business not the business runs the family. We aim to continue to improve our business, running a highly profitable high performing farm as well as having time for family and getting the kids involved on the farm where possible.”
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