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Intensive farming sustainable with smart systems

Intensive farming sustainable with smart systems
Tirau-based Dr Ian Scott with one of his velveting stags. Deer provide a valuable role in the grazing ecosystem by cleaning up grass that cows are too fussy to eat.

Tirau based farmer and veterinarian Dr Ian Scott has recently shown a group of Irish farmers and Brazilian veterinarians how intensive farming can be sustainable.“New Zealand is recognised to be a world leader and farmers around the world are looking at what we’re doing,” he says.

With Brexit imminent and the potential for UK farmers to no longer qualify for EU farm subsidies, Ian says that the Irish farmers were interested in how they could cut costs by moving to a more grass based system.

They were particularly fascinated by how Kiwi farmers turn a profit with primarily grass based systems and export their products successfully with no subsidies, he says.

The Brazilians were impressed with how the much smaller numbers of New Zealand farmers were achieving the same production as the over one million dairy farmers in Brazil. They were also intrigued by how Ian had combined dairy with deer in his farming operation.

Ian operates five farms located in Tirau and surrounds including a system five dairy farm with a stocking rate of 5.5-6 cows per hectare milking up to 390 friesian and kiwicross cows through a 40 aside shed on a split calving system with a Fonterra winter milk contract.

He generally achieves three times the New Zealand average production per hectare and his business Scott Holdings has produced up to 196,000kgMS off a 60ha platform. More impressively, Ian’s achieved this result while reducing his environmental footprint, partly through using a large wintering barn, which is covered in 1000 cubic metres of wood chips.

These collect and absorb the nutrients and twice a year, up to 400 cubes of woodchips are collected and exported to the support block where they are cultivated and become a big part of the nutrient requirement to grow the following year’s maize crop.

This has resulted in the farm cutting its nitrogen leaching to less than 26kg of nitrogen per hectare – approximately half the national average – while still achieving extremely high production.

His farming system utilising the wood chips also helps to maintain and increase the soil organic matter on the support block so that it harvests over 30 tonnes of dry matter per hectare each year.

Ian says he has worked closely with the Fonterra sustainability team and one outcome has been that by carefully controlling his cows’ diet, and ensuring there is little surplus protein, he has been able to reduce levels of milk urea, resulting in lower loss of nitrogen in the cows’ urine.

“Lowering the stocking rate is not the answer to environmental issues for the majority of farmers or we’ll all go broke. I believe the solution is to farm smarter using appropriate technologies to keep generating the products New Zealand needs to sell,” he says.

The deer side of the operation works in with the dairy unit as the deer provide a valuable role in the grazing ecosystem – a tool for pasture management – by cleaning up grass that the cows are too fussy to eat, ensuring the quality remains high for when the cows return.

Ian says deer,when farmed well, also have a relatively low environmental footprint.Other initiatives include restoration work and riparian planting around Lake Okoroire, which is on one of the farms.

So far around 18,000 natives have been planted, invasive pest species removed and further major projects are in the pipeline to ensure environmental enhancement into the future.

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