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How can dairy farmers be green without going red?

How do our southern South Island dairy farmers reduce their impact on the environment while continually improving production and profit? This is one of many questions being addressed by the DairyNZ Southern Wintering System programme (SWS).

AbacusBio consultants, Jo Kerslake and Kevin Wilson are working with lead scientists, Drs Dawn Dalley and Ina Pinxterhuis of DairyNZ and Miranda Hunter of Roslin Consultancy Ltd, to understand how wintering is managed in the southern region. They aim to review how different management approaches can improve farmers’ production and profit outcomes, as well as their environmental impact.

“With the current drive from the dairy sector to be more competitive and environmentally responsible, it is vital that scientists, consultants and farmers work together to explore various wintering system approaches that not only reduce the environmental impact, but are cost effective, practical to implement and provide a reliable source of high quality feed,” Dawn Dalley said.

As part of the SWS programme, a number of case studies have been developed to quantify and understand the effect of farm system change on milk production, operating profit and nitrogen leaching.

“Case study approaches (that are chosen for assessing the practicality of implementing a farm system change and its impact) are more meaningful when considered within the context of an individual farmer’s goals, objectives and resources,” Miranda Hunter said.

As such, one to two farmers were selected from the following SWS Community of Practice groups: free-stall barn; loose-housed barn; wintering pads and crop-based wintering. Initial on-farm visits were undertaken to understand farm goals and objectives, and collect farm system data required to develop the model in Farmax Dairy Pro® and Overseer®. The personal goals and objectives of each farmer, a description of their current farm system, and its impacts, were presented at the SWS Community of Practice. Strengths and weaknesses, and latest research findings were then discussed, resulting in the development of three to four alternative management approaches for modelling. Developing these scenarios with a multi-disciplinary team approach is vital to ensuring suggested management changes are innovative, well-grounded and able to address key issues and concerns.

The results from this modelling work will provide an interesting and useful resource for farmers who want to understand the impact that different management practices have on production, profit, and the environment. The key results from this project are due to be presented by Dawn Dalley at this year’s South Island Dairy Event in Invercargill. Future developments in this programme – following up on the key results – will address the potential management implications of the suggested changes.

Find out more about the SWS Research Programme