The outlook for dairy farmers is generally positive, particularly in exports to Asia, according to Minister for Economic Development, Steven Joyce.
Speaking at the second day of the Farmers Forum, Steven backed the optimism with a raft of figures, and his address was followed by a detailed update from DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader for productivity Bruce Thorrold.
Bruce says 28 cents of every levy dollar is focused on research and development, and in recent times focusses on two areas.
The first is feed conversion efficiency in dairy cows. Finding the genetic clues to why some cows eat less than others, yet still produce as much milk.
Working on this for about 20 years now, researchers consider their most recent findings represent an extra $600/ha profit.
They’ve also been working with beef cattle and have found individuals which consume 28 per cent less feed than others, but can gain weight at the same rates.
The second area has been forage improvement, which has enabled them to publish the Forage Value Index in 2012, initially on perennial ryegrass.
This has been improved with the addition of annual and short-term ryegrasses now being included. This research hasn’t only measured nutritive results, but levels of persistence on challenging sites. Twenty-eight paddocks, on farms New Zealand wide, have been measured, with three to five cuts/paddock per year.
Working with seed companies, this research produced genetic gains in both grasses and clovers.
The Pastoral 21 research has been seeking productivity gains with no leaching, and there has been much work done on the leaching from urine patches.
While standoff areas have shown to reduce leaching, one of the most interesting findings is leaching from patches is greatest between March-May each year. Adjusting farming methods for these periods has potential to reduce leaching by 40 per cent.
New material on feed conversion efficiency will go up on the DairyNZ website this month. Synlait staff led the first workshop to explain the ‘lean’ systems they’ve been introducing on 14 farms in the South Island.
With large herds and multiple staff, the need for consistency and systems, which reduce waste in all areas, has been important.
They’ve aimed for continuous small steps in the process, with improvements involving no or low cost.
A system they call 6S has been introduced on each farm, with good ideas and progress reported back to the whole staff group at regular intervals.
These include Safety, getting Sorted, Setting tools etc in order, Shining clean equipment and facilities, Standardising to best practice, and Sustaining it all.
They’ve also adopted a problem solving culture they call Root Cause Analysis, to accurately identify problems, and stressed that this calls for good record keeping in all areas.
From the enthusiasm shown by the two women presenters, ‘lean’ is working well for Synlait.
With the increasing variety of feed systems now being used in dairy farming, a workshop looking at the profitability being made by those using them produced some interesting results. High input systems (System 5) can, if done well, produce high profitability. Interestingly, those making the next level of profits were using all grass systems, with weekly farm walks, careful pasture management, and fewer input costs.
Those farmers who tended to work from week to week, buying in supplements at higher cost when the grass didn’t grow as expected, are making the smallest profits.
Great farm teams
With the strong need to get good people into farm work and to keep them there and progressing, it is obviously time for some coherent advice from all quarters.
The workshop on this reveals there has been a lot going on behind the scenes, and the outcomes are now becoming apparent.
DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, Primary ITO, Dairy Women’s Network and PICA are about to come out with a comprehensive skills matrix, designed around the basic premise of there being five levels of farm worker role; from farm assistant to herd manager, assistant manager, farm manager and business/operations manager for bigger enterprises.
These will have defined levels of on-farm experience, clear skill requirements (along with how to acquire these); and possibly even more important, the expected levels of supervision for each by those in charge.
Federated Farmers has also just come out with a New Employers Pack, aimed at those taking on staff for the first time. This includes a raft of information on the need for record-keeping to satisfy the requirements of the welter of Government agencies involved.
DairyNZ has a QuickStart booklet or web-based set of instructions for the first four roles.
Given the number of farmers at a forum session, who admitted to having had an employee leave without giving notice, all this information is obviously well-needed for the industry to retain good staff.
Sustainable milk plans
With water quality grabbing media headlines frequently, some assistance to farmers to recognise how they might take action to improve things is being worked on vigorously by DairyNZ.
The emphasis in the workshop is all improvements made on any farm have good effects downstream.
The Sustainable Milk Plans effort draws together what’s already been done, and tailors future tasks to individual farms.
It works through three parties working together; the farmer, his consultant and a representative from the DairyNZ team.
For drains and streams, they work out best riparian widths and plantings. To comply with the WRC Variation 6 at least one water meter will be needed.
Overall, the new system will benchmark what’s there, understand any risk, use the largely free resources and professional advice, make a plan for change, and review and update as needed. It’s called ‘taking control’.