Profit and sustainability – getting the balance right

Profi t and sustainability – getting the balance right
South Taranaki couple Damian and Jane Roper combine dairying with a strong focus on enhancing the environment.

It’s a good news dairy story in the midst of the negative publicity the industry has had to endure of late. South Taranaki couple Damian and Jane Roper’s 150ha dairy unit at Alton was featured on Seven Sharp, which showcased the couple’s efforts to demonstrate how dairy farming could be operated profitably and sustainably.
In particular the couple have been developing a 2.5ha section of native bush, left by the early settlers, as an example of what the area used to look like.
Local council became involved and the area has been established as a Key Nativ e Ecosystem and is in the process of being given QEII National Trust status ensuring its permanent protection. The Ropers work has involved bush enhancement and weed and pest monitoring and control.
The couple’s children – Jack, 22, Harriet, 20 and Adelaide, 14 – are currently working on a boardwalk, which they hope will be used by schools to educate the next generation about looking after the land.
Outside this 2.5hectares the family has also developed a wetland area out of a non-productive steep sided gully. A lake has been formed, fenced and surrounded by riparian planting including native trees.
The project could be seen as just one example of how the Roper family is willing to think outside the square when it comes to combining dairying with being caretakers of the land.
A current option they are investigating, to help prevent erosion and sediment run-off to waterways, is using marginal parts of the farm to grow nut trees for their fruit and also walnut trees for their timber.
“We wanted to do something different so we are looking at various options such as macadamias, walnuts, chestnuts and pine nuts. There are a lot of things to think about such as labour requirements, harvest times etc as we want something that will work with dairying as that is still our main focus,” says Damian who stresses it is a long term plan as the trees would take 8-10 years to reach their first harvest.
They plan to plant a trial 1.5ha plot this winter. The Roper’s farm milks 450 Friesian/Friesian cross cows through a 50 bail rotary shed with automatic cup removers, automatic drafting and in-shed feeding system.
It replaced two existing dairy sheds on the farm reducing walking time for cows and also labour units as it is now a one person shed.
The farm also has a concrete feed pad, which has helped reduce feed wastage and protect pastures from damage during wet weather.
The focus is on reducing bought-in supplement, which they had successfully managed to reduce by two thirds apart from this season due to summer dry and a wet spring.
This meant they fed 300 tonnes of maize silage and 150 tonnes of palm kernel on the feed pad and a further 150 tonnes of supplement through the in shed feed system.
Last season the farm produced 213,000 kilograms of milk solids and this season is on track to produce 234,000 kilograms.
This has been partially achieved by employing a nutritionist who has helped the Ropers feed the herd the right amount of the right feed at the right time and feed costs have remained at the 2017 level The Roper’s focus on the environment also extends to a contracting business they operate that is run by Jack, which promotes minimal tillage and focuses on direct drilling for better soil conservation.
It is a practice that the Roper’s follow on their own farm by 90% direct drilling. They are moving towards soil testing individual paddocks and are very specific with fertiliser product choice and placement to suit the needs of each paddock.
This season there has been testing of grouped paddocks while some fence alignment is finished.
“ This has saved us a lot of money as some paddocks have not needed to have phosphate applied for 10 years,” says Damian. “It just goes to show there can be a balance between dairy farming and looking after the environment promoting a healthy bio diverse ecosystem.”
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…

  • Chris Perrett Electrical Solutions LTD
  • Harris & Taylor
  • Lanco Ex Ltd
  • GB Contracting

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