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Project aims to improve sustainability

Kim Stewart Oct 10
Project aims to improve sustainability
The research at the Southern Dairy Hub is focused on achieving practical and constructive results.

A three-year $730,00 research project starting in Southland and Otago this July will be looking closely at sustainability and exploring ways to reduce the environmental footprint of dairy farming.

The project is funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund, Dairy NZ and South Island Dairy Event (SIDE).

Dairy NZ scientist and project manager Dawn Dalley, who is leading the large-scale farm systems’ research at the Southern Dairy Hub (SDH), says the project is wide-ranging and focused on achieving practical and constructive results.

“The SDH project is targeting a 30 per cent reduction in nitrate leaching with future systems,” she observes.

“We are now also seeking to deepen our understanding of the greenhouse gas footprint from a range of farm systems by collecting data to allow calculations of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide losses.

“Our third focus is on ways to reduce sediment loss from activities such as winter cropping, so as to keep topsoil and nutrients in the paddock.”

As well as researching mitigation options at the SDH, the project plan is to extend its reach by partnering with four environmentally proactive farms across Southland and Otago.

“We see the Southern Dairy Hub as being at the centre of the wheel with these satellite farms around the rim. They won’t be measured with the same level of intensity, but we want to get alongside the farmers and understand what they are doing differently to try and further reduce their environmental footprint. Around each of these farms we will establish a community of interest or a group of farmers who will become involved in the project. We’re trying to get as many people as possible engaged in what is being done here.”

Once recruited, the satellite farms will work closely with the community of interest and project team.

Underpinning this landmark project is earlier research from the Pastoral 21 and Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching programmes that have identified potential mitigation options including reduced N inputs, use of standoff and feed pads, alternative pasture species such as plantain, low N crops such as fodder beet and catch crops for utilising nutrients left following forage crop grazing.

“In this new project, we’re looking at what’s out there already and trying to better understand the whole farm system footprint.

We want to make sure we’re not just trading off an environmental gain in one area for an environmental loss in another.

We need to look at all the different parts of the farm system.”

The Southern Dairy Hub, which opened in July 2017 as a joint investment between southern dairy farmers, AgResearch and DairyNZ, was established to help address dairy challenges in the region through research and demonstration.

Four separate farmlets of around 200 cows each make up the 349-hectare facility.

They are being run and man-aged separately, with their own winter cropping and stocking regimes.

“This hub is a unique resource. It is the largest farm of its type in New Zealand being run as dairy farm system research at scale and one of the bigger ones internationally. It is implementing very valuable research for this region.”

For the greenhouse gas part of this latest project, AgResearch staff will be collecting samples from the farmlets and generating data as a first step towards developing a workable measurement tool that could be used on commercial farms.

“We have established a series of milestones with target dates that relate to different parts of the project and once we’re half-way through there will also be a progress review.”

It is hoped the project will ultimately produce environmental spin-offs not just for the Southland and Otago dairy sector but for farmers throughout New Zealand.

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