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Theories put to test at $21.5m farm

Theories put to test at $21.5m farm
Farm systems and innovation, including environmental management and effluent, are researched at the property 15km north-west of Invercargill.

One of the first challenges in establishing the Southern Dairy Hub’s Wallacetown research facility was to find a large-scale conversion property with a suitable location, soil types, contour and aspects that typified the region.

Commissioned in June 2017, the innovative facility is a joint venture between the Southern Dairy Development Trust, southern dairy farmers, businesses, AgResearch and DairyNZ.

Following a five-year journey to establish the $21.5 million hub, which included a lengthy property search, 349 hectares 15 kilometres north-west of Invercargill was purchased from Alliance Group in February 2016 at a cost of $11.6 million.

Southland and South Otago farmers and businesses have invested $1.25 million in the hub through the Southern Dairy Development Trust, while principal shareholders DairyNZ and AgResearch have invested $5 million each.

The $21.5 million cost to purchase and convert the property includes: • $2.7 million – 60-bale rotary dairy shed • $1 million – farm buildings, dwellings and a silage bunker • $841,000 – fencing, lanes and water supply • $480,000 – effluent pond and drainage • $466,000 – winter crops, pasture establishment and fertiliser.

Consultants, consents, legal and project management fees added a further $626,000 for a per hectare cost of $51,000.

While there is a focus on dairy farming in the southern South Island, Southern Dairy Development Trust chairman Tony Miles says local farmers liked the fact that $10m was being invested from outside the region by AgResearch and DairyNZ.

Being a research farm means costs are higher than usual as there are more fences, troughs, laneways, paddocks, holding yards, handling facilities and effluent storage compared with a commercial farm of the same size.

Research will compare and test new theories and innovation, including environmental management, wintering options and effluent.

Farm systems will also be compared and current programmes, such as the Dairy NZ Forage Value Index (FVI) will be tested and validated in local conditions to produce local data.

The hub’s milking shed includes a viewing platform, extensive yarding to facilitate handling up to four comparative herds, underpass access inside the platform for data and sample collection, and an intensive animal handling research facility.

During the present season 700 cows split into four herds are being milked.

This season is being used as a benchmark season and one of the four herds next season will be a control herd. The farm was commissioned late in June and milking started in late July.

Despite it incorporating a research facility, it must still meet the commercial objectives of a comparative dairy operation. The farm is on track to produce 400kgMS per cow and 1200kgMS per hectare.

Theories put to test at $21.5m farm

As at November 6, total production of 84,000kgMS per cow was recorded from the start of the season and 1.8kgMS per cow per day in the previous week.

The makeup of the hub with its four farmlets and four herds means extra demands are placed on staff.

These include the need for four individual feed wedges with their own target cover and multiple grazing/rotation lengths, along with potentially different inputs, calving dates, mating decisions and winter crops.

Southern Dairy Hub chairman Maurice Hardie says research in the southern region’s climate and soil types will be invaluable.

“We’re excited that research is now under way to drive better farming practices, environmental initiatives and increased efficiency on farm.”

One research trial is comparing the feed regimes of cows, with two herds of 80 cows on fodder beet, duplicated by another two of 80 on kale.

Research to the FVI, a ranking system for rye grass cultivars, is also in progress. Proud to support Southern Dairy Hub with cultivating of their fields.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson says the hub will be part of a network of high quality, new science facilities across New Zealand that support land-based industries.

AgResearch is also investing in new joint facilities with partners in Lincoln and Palmerston North, while maintaining its “important” presence at its Invermay campus near Mosgiel, he says.

“We looked at the map and saw a gap in our capability in the deep south, and the huge benefits that permanent, purpose-built research facilities in southern conditions could provide,” Tom says.

“Working alongside local farmers also makes good sense so that the scientists are doing research that is relevant to the local needs.

“With the challenge of growing the value of New Zealand’s agricultural exports while preserving and enhancing the environments we farm in, there has never been a greater need to invest in quality science.

“That’s what we will see here at the Southern Dairy Hub, and other new facilities.”