Plant based ‘milk’ among future challenges

with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions

How rapidly things can change when it comes to soil conditions. From wet and boggy and impossible to get machinery onto, within days the ground in some of our paddocks became almost too hard to disc up.

After almost constant rain since autumn, many farmers are now saying while they want some sunshine, they are hoping for rain too to keep grass and crops growing.

We’ve had a frustrating start to the maize season to say the least. Early on we had problems with sprayers getting stuck and having to tow out tractors, but despite a slow start we’ve managed to catch up with making grass silage and planting maize, and in some cases, are slightly ahead of where we were last year.

However, getting there has been one hell of battle. It’s meant long, long hours, up as early as 3am checking the weather and getting machinery working early before forecast showers came through.

Planning crops

Demand for grass silage has now gone quiet, evidenced by not much movement of silage machinery along local roads. Contractors say there’s not a lot happening but demand is a bit better than last year, which was very challenging.

Now is the time for farmers to be planning ahead for summer and winter crops. Early December is the best time to plant sorghum if farmers are worried the weather might turn dry this summer and haven’t had any surplus to make into silage. Seeds need soil temperatures around 19 degrees to germinate. Currently soils are at about 15-16 degrees which is ideal for maize but not warm enough for sorghum.

It appears there won’t be a peak in milk production this season with dairy companies down one to two per cent on production. This is probably a reflection of the wet winter and spring and now mating is underway, production is likely to drop off a little. Farmers trying to hold milk production as high as they can and keep cows cycling are feeding out supplements if they have any left.

Weather for weeds

Rising soil and air temperatures and plenty of rain has favoured weeds with buttercup, dock and almost every weed in creation appearing in pastures. These pests need to be controlled, especially in pastures and paddocks used for cropping.

The winter wet may have reduced numbers of black beetle but it remains to be seen what other insect pests have thrived and are ready to attack pasture and crops.

If all that is not enough of a challenge for dairy farmers, there are also threats from new innovations in food production. The latest I’ve read about is making ‘milk’ from peas. It’s said to be a good protein source and have a lower environmental footprint than milk from cows.


Plant-based ‘milks’ are obviously not new and almond milk is already very popular, especially among consumers who are lactose intolerant.

Farmers need to be aware of these innovations and market trends and be open to changing options because, of course, if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.

One way of meeting these challenges is to farm smarter and there’s some very useful technology available to make farming more efficient and cost-effective. We are using technology which enables the accurate application of fertiliser so it goes exactly where it needs to and at the required rate, which leads to reducing cost.

Such precision farming will result in a reduction in the use of nitrogen, and reduce leaching to waterways, which is obviously better for our environment.

The new three-party government may face challenges in working together and the nation now waits to see how Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens will govern, but maybe it’s not a bad thing to have a change of direction in government. Let’s hope it works out for all our sakes.


There are no comments on this blog.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to make a comment. Login Now
Opinion Poll

We're not running a poll right now. Check back soon!