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Sustainable Winter Dairy Grazing Project

AbacusBio consultants Jo Kerslake and Kevin Wilson, together with Central Otago farmer Jane Mitchell, are leading a new winter dairy grazing project, which is funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), and in-kind support from Federated Farmers and the Otago Regional Council.

Industry support for dairy grazing operations often falls between the dairy sector and sheep and beef sector. As such, the “know-how” and communication networks between the two are not well established.

With the drive from the dairy sector to be more competitive and responsible, and the sheep and beef sector to improve returns behind the farm gate, it is vital that the pastoral industry engages to offer solutions in ensuring the best outcomes for both sectors.

“The dairy and sheep and beef sectors need to engage to identify information requirements and knowledge gaps associated with successful winter dairy grazing systems,” Jo Kerslake explains.

This applies particularly to dairy grazers in non-traditional areas, as a lack of “incidental community communication” was observed when both types of farms operated alongside each other.

The ongoing development of milking platforms on premium land will see more land use change in both traditional and non-traditional dairying areas to support wintering and/or raising of young dairy stock.

Since 2000, dairy grazing on sheep and beef farms has increased four-fold in New Zealand (according to B+LNZ Economic Service Data).

In the South Island, a 37% increase in dairy grazer stock units is forecast on sheep and beef farms for the 2013/14 year.

Grazing dairy stock not only benefits dairy farmers by being able to utilise a greater amount of pasture on the platform for milk production, but also benefits sheep and beef farmers by improving cash flow and offering the opportunity for increased land development.

The Central Otago region will be used as a pilot area, where the project aims to identify current key issues and types of information required to support decision making, through various workshops with dairy farmers, graziers, and rural professionals.

With input from DairyNZ and B+LNZ, the information obtained will be used to develop and extend a “decision support” model that grazers can use to ensure a productive, profitable, and sustainable dairy grazing operation.

The key focus areas of the project will be business feasibility, environmental risk and responsibility, on-farm management, and relationship management.

The Sustainable Winter Dairy Grazing Project will run for three years, during which outcomes will be delivered through field days, published articles, and a written report.