Something in it for everybody!

Todays post is by guest blogger Dr Neil Moss our farm consultant and one of the great team of experts who shared their vast experience and knowledge with the participants at our recent Field Day

Neil shares his field day banter with you ……….

One of the great privileges of working in dairy consultancy is being able to observe and collect innovations and exciting ideas from successful farmers in one location, and then mould, adapt and apply these to a wider variety of situations with other farmers that are also willing to innovate and try new things.

Dr Neil Moss and Dr Richard Eckard share the benefits of planting legume pastures with Field Day particpants

Dr Neil Moss points out the stoloniferous habits of some his pasture

Our recent field day at Lemon Grove Research Farm was a great example of just this concept. For many years I have been working together with clients on their farms  developing pastures that break away from the norm and start to cover some of the gaps in their pasture production and risk management systems.

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It was a colourful and diverse group of farmers who stood in Neil’s pasture salad bowl 

The field day wasn’t just a great chance to showcase some of these great pastures and how we go about getting them. It was also a great opportunity to explore how farmers’ ideas and observations can be captured and developed into farming systems, and how individuals that think “outside the square” and challenge conventional wisdom can shift “out of the box” concepts and techniques into the mainstream with benefits for many.

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The participants got some backgrounding from Lynne Strong

Using some concepts and techniques that I originally observed on a farm owned by David and Audrey Moxey on the Mid-North coast of New South Wales (Thanks guys!!) we are now working in just this way. Some great on-farm ideas based on Dave’s experience and a little innovation have now been morphed into a widely adaptable pasture system that may have substantial production and environmental benefits for those that can apply them. David had successfully negated some of the production challenges posed by low summer feed quality by including lucerne, chicory and plantain- tap rooted legumes and herbs with great summer growth and feed-quality, in his planting mixes. We had been sowing these with ryegrass to drive more winter and spring growth but this system was still exposed to summer grass invasion and the need to use significant amounts of nitrogen fertiliser to get the most out of them.

Now it was time to think and adapt! What if we used more winter active chicory cultivars dropped the ryegrass out and started to control some of the summer grass weeds with selective herbicides! It worked a treat.

Farmers network

There was plenty of discussion and networking opportunities

The run-up to the GFC saw a near tripling in price of nitrogen based fertilisers. Linked closely to the petro-chemical industry, it was clear to see that one of the key future “risks” we were facing was “nitrogen shock”- and believe me, many were shocked at how high the prices went and how exposed their systems were. Coupled with this, a growing understanding and acknowledgement of the potential environmental and greenhouse effects of high nitrogen fertiliser use was raising eyebrows – it was clearly time to observe, adapt and act!

Audience at Lemon Grove

Tracey Bob and Vicki thought it might be worth a try in Berry and Pyree

The Strong’s at Jamberoo are fantastic innovators and have been great clients to learn and grow with over the last 12 years. When we discussed these new pasture strategies and some of the benefits they may bring, they could not wait to give it ago. Taking considerable risk they dedicated 12 hectares to some new plots and away we went. For two years we worked to refine the system, adding clovers and modifying our winter agronomic strategies to see where we could shift the feed production curve to. We had what we thought were some great successes and picked up a few lumps and bumps on the way.

Michael in Lucerne @ Lemon Grove

But now we needed validation. We needed to be more certain that what looked, felt and seemed good was actually delivering! Testimonials and feel good stories (has anyone out there ever read a bad testimonial????) were and should never be enough to persuade farmers to drop what is tried, tested and true and expose themselves to even more risk! We needed a bit of data. Here’s where we were lucky enough to apply for and successfully receive some research funding through the Caring for our Country grants program.

Daff and Martin Royds

Marcelle from DAFF interviews Martin Royds

We could now put some numbers to what we thought was happening allowing farmers to make better decisions based on observations with real infield “controls” for comparison.

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We still had a few weeds to tackle

So what have we found so far? We have appear to have a resilient pasture system that is giving us as much feed (this year anyway) as the traditional kikuyu based pasture system commonly utilised on the coast. The feed quality is dramatically improved and most importantly, our nitrogen fertiliser usage has dropped by over 50% at this stage. Weeds can still be a challenge! This linkwill take you to the presentation of our full results to date.

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Farm field days are a great way to present information and stimulate cross pollination of ideas. We had many farmers there, some from dairy, some from beef and small holdings, some with conventional farming backgrounds, others pushing in different directions with organic and biological ideologies. The great thing was that the barriers that seemed to exist between these farming “churches” appeared to subside allowing all to ask question and share ideas- farmers learning from farmers, picking out what may or may not work in their farming system!

The day was all about interaction. Interaction between farmers and those from the services sectors, between representatives from government and environmental bodies and the educational institutions. Personally, I really enjoyed the interaction with all the attendees.

Stephen Weidemann and Dr Richard Eckard

Stephen and Richard in the dairy at Clover Hill

I also got a buzz from bouncing off the other guest speakers attending the day including Richard Eckard and Steven Weidemann who were only too happy to step into the fray and openly share their knowledge and experience as well! I hope everyone enjoyed the day as much as I did!

Back to Lynne

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Let’s not forget the gorgeous man who always not only brings the lunch he cooks it too

Phil Monoghan

and serves it. Big shout out to Phil Monaghan and Weston Animal Nutrition

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and special thanks to Phil Duncan from Bishops Nowra and Carl Pratten from NAB Nowra who sponsored the drinks. This is Carl talking to Albion Park dairy farmer Craig Tait

Using the power of poo to save your farm, no bull

Guest post today By Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra

It’s not cheap, but you won’t be ‘wasting’ your time – a Jamberoo farming conference has been told using the nutrients from livestock dung could help lower your fertiliser bill and help the environment.

 

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Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra gets the lowdown on Dung from Steve Weidemann

Where we see livestock dung, agricultural scientist Stephen Wiedemann sees a great source of nutrients for your crop or a way to power your home.

Animal dung is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – all fertilisers a farm spends significant money on – and much of the time it ends up biodegrading in the paddock or in a sewerage system.

“We like to see waste as a liquid fertiliser,” Stephen said.

“In a dairy or any livestock farm the animals only use a small proportion of the energy they consume, so you can improve sustainability if you can then cycle those nutrients around the farm.”

The Toowoomba-based scientist was speaking yesterday at a conference on ‘Clearing the Carbon Confusion’ held at the Lemon Grove farm near Jamberoo on the NSW South Coast.

The day also involved talks from Dr Neil Moss and Associate Professor Richard Eckard who were trying to help local farmers manage their environmental responsibility while still making money.

And while he’s a bit sheepish about being known as the resident livestock ‘poo expert’, Stephen Wiedemann is serious about making a farm more efficient, starting from the backside.

Putting manure on your domestic garden is something we’ve been doing for decades, but applying that principle to a broad acre crop is a different (and significantly more expensive) story.

“It’s a little bit difficult and expensive but it’s easier if you’ve got a larger farm,” he said.

“Infrastructure is a concern because you’re looking at dams, ponds and other treatment facilities and also irrigators so there is a high capital set-up, but once it’s established, it’s not too hard to manage.”

Balancing a farmer’s books and social conscience is not a new problem, but it’s something that is easier with the advice of experts like Stephen.

He describes his specialty as making the point of connection between the environment and farming.

And as farms become bigger as the demand for primary produce increases, the environmental strain grows too.

“Across the industry there’s a trend to expanding farm sizes, which means more cows on less area and one downside to that is you’ve got an issue with how to manage their waste.”

Stephen says, just like we’d use cow manure to fertilise our garden, livestock effluent can be used to replenish paddocks that are depleted from grazing or foraging.

In Germany, effluent management systems that recycle waste are commonplace, and sometimes used to trap methane which then powers households.

He says these additional benefits are some of the carrots that will sell the message to sceptical farmers.

“It’s a challenge for the industry because it’s capital intensive and you’re looking at longer payoffs, especially when farming’s recently been full of tight margins.

“I know a lot of farmers would like to push it off to the corner, but you have to look at other benefits beyond the cash benefits.

“There’s a positive kickback in terms of lower fertiliser usage, but the overall payback may be more in the realm of six years, and that doesn’t look attractive to a farmer.”

Stephen Weidemann talks to Justin Huntsdale from ABC Illawarra

The big wet has left us a little worse for wear in more ways than one

All the details for our field day on March 26th and 27th 2012  see Future farming: research puts grass out to pasture are now bedded down. See flyer here

Jamberoo Field Day Lemon Grove Research Farm Flyer

However in typical farming fashion the weather is behaving badly and Lemon Grove Research Farm is under water

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The water is receding fairly quickly however with the trial paddock now reasonably water free after been totally covered in water at 6am this morning

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Mmh its looks like everyone will be coming to see how our pasture recovers from too much  water

The home farm Clover Hill is also waterlogged and sadly the dangers of farming are only too apparent to all the team after this accident this morning that left the tractor a write off and the driver thankfully in one piece

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The tractor after a long slide down the hill, an altercation with some large rocks and a couple of trees and a few double back flips.

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I send a special thank you to John Deere for making tractors that help save lives.

Future farming: research puts grass out to pasture

Todays post comes via Kiama Independent story on our field day we are hosting in partnership with Southern rivers cma

DANIELLE CETINSKI

22 Feb, 2012 01:00 AM

A RESEARCHER could have the answer to the future of dairy farming and the solution was born in Kiama.

Research company SBScibus director Neil Moss, who lives in Kiama, has spent the past eight years developing a new kind of pasture using no grass at all.

“We wanted another way of doing things to fill gaps in the feed base,” he said.

Dairy

Dr Moss’ “salad bowl of ingredients” includes lucerne, chicory and plantain, which are all deep-rooted legumes and herbs – red clover is part of the mix because it grows quickly while the lucerne establishes itself, and the white clover fills in gaps in the pasture if other plants die out.

The trial pasture at Clover Hill Dairies’ research farm Lemon Grove at Jamberoo has already yielded some surprising results.

“We’ve found it generates 10 to 15 per cent more energy and the milk is 15 to 20 per cent higher in protein,” he said.

“We’re also getting between one-and-a-half and two litres more milk per cow per day spent on the pasture, which is a rise of five to 10 per cent.”

Dr Moss selected them from years of observations and fieldwork because they grow year-round, unlike the ryegrass and kikuyu commonly used on coastal dairy farms, which only grow in winter and spring and summer and autumn respectively.

They have deeper root systems than grass, meaning the pasture would be more resilient in times of drought.

They also rely less on nitrogen-based fertilisers, which are increasing in price, and respond to recycled effluent from the dairy.

Clover Hill Dairies owner Lynne Strong said she was excited about the research.

“It is widely recognised nine out of 10 farmers learn from other farmers and they want to see the research working in their own backyard,” she said.

The Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority will run a field day at Clover Hill Dairies on March 26-27, allowing farmers to see the pasture firsthand.

“This field day will let regional farmers to see the results we are getting on our farm and allow them to determine if they think it will fit into their farming system,” Mrs Strong said.

It will include presentations on sustainable farming, soil health and the Australian Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative, including how to generate carbon credits.

Mrs Strong said the presenters were experts in their fields, including Dr Moss, Richard Eckard from the University of Melbourne, Mick Keogh from the Australian Farming Institute and Louisa Kiely from Carbon Farmers Australia.

Also speaking is Steve Wiedemann

Presentation topic:  Carbon and Nutrient Efficiency; Opportunities for dairyfarmers

Profitability and sustainability are front and centre issues for dairyfarmers.  One unlikely area where there may be opportunities to win on both fronts is from the manure pile.  Steve Wiedemann will speak about the carbon and nutrient opportunities that exist for dairyfarmers through improving effluent and manure management.  This will be a practical look at how to best utilise the resources that remain in waste streams at the dairy and in the paddock, and how to set a path to reducing some costly fertiliser inputs. Beyond the farm gate, we’ll also look at how dairy farmers might be able to participate in the carbon farming initiate by getting paid to reduce their emissions.

Technical summary:

  • Nutrient and carbon flows around the dairy farm – what they are and what they tell us
  • ‘Waste energy’ – how to capture this (Anaerobic digestion at the farm scale)
  • ‘Waste nutrients’ – where do under-utilised nutrients end up on a dairy farm and what can be done about it?
  • How increasing productivity can lower your carbon footprint
  • How emissions capture may lead to carbon credits

Bio:

Steve Wiedemann is a carbon and nutrient management specialist with FSA Consulting, based in Toowoomba Queensland.  Steve is currently running a number of national R&D projects looking at the carbon footprint of livestock enterprises, is a member of the livestock technical committee for developing Carbon Farming Initiative methodologies, and works regularly with a wide range of famers in the area of nutrient management.

If you would like to attend the field day, email peter.pigott@cma.nsw.gov.au or phone on 4429 4449.

Heads up on the research

Our second farm ‘Lemon Grove Research Farm’ PL  was leased in 2008 to grow and diversify our enterprise.

In complete contrast to the home farm whose terrain would challenge the fittest mountain goat Lemon Grove’s 68ha of alluvial river flats provides gentle leisurely access to beautiful pastures for our pregnant milking cows

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The lush flats at Lemon Grove Research Farm which is adjacent to the Jamberoo township

Despite receiving 33% less rainfall than Clover Hill (and the occasional flood!), we have managed to increase stocking rate on Lemon Grove by 150% to graze 5 cows per hectare. This has allowed us to achieve a 350% increase in milk production from that farm in the last three years.

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Thank God this only happens every 50 years ( touch wood)

This has  been achieved through a combination of improved feeding in the dairy and via our small opportunity feed pad, improved fertility in our pastures and innovative and exciting agronomic strategies that provide us with  a more even supply of high quality pastures all year round

Michael in Lucerne @ Lemon Grove

Michael standing in our lush first foray into the world of perennial pastures in Jamberoo

This leads us to our first and exciting research innovation which is to investigate the role and performance of perennial non-grass based pastures in coastal dairy farms

We were looking for ways to reduce our reliance on high nitrogen fertiliser inputs due to both its potential environmental impact and exposure to price volatility. We have watched urea ride the price roller coaster over the last five year due to its close linkage to oil price and we only see the upward trend continuing    

Roller Coaster

Traditional coastal grass based pastures (summer kikuyu/paspalum; winter ryegrass) are highly dependent on nitrogen  inputs, generally suffer from poor quality and manageability in summer, require re-sowing each year and are limited by root depth in being able to access moisture and soil nutrient and  hence are prone to short term moisture stress. There is also a significant lag (production gap) between rye grass senescing in spring and summer grasses growing well; and between sowing and production of new winter pastures in the autumn

Past efforts to grow perennial ryegrass have ben foiled by insect pests and summer grass weed infestation and dare I say inappropriate management practices .

 

Neil Moss @ CH

 

 

We have been working with Dr Neil Moss from SBScibus for 10 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been refining these pastures in the Jamberoo environment with our consultant Dr Neil Moss over the last 3 years and on our current trial site we have planted a mixture of pasture based on perennial legumes and herbs

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The trial site is located in paddock 6 with the control site in paddock 5

Over the next 3 years we will share our success and failures (hopefully failures will be few and far between)

This trial is supported by funding from

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Oh no not another whingeing farmer story

People say farmers are always complaining about the weather. When it’s supposed to be sunny farmers say it should be raining and when it’s supposed to be raining it’s supposed to be sunny.

So when I got a call from the local radio station wanting to do a story on the weather with the opening line “ Surely all you dairy farmers must be happy this rain will be making the grass grow” you can imagine little Ms #Agvocacy thinks to herself the last thing I want to do is a “whingeing farmer story”

But I thought no this is a good story to tell – there are many very good reasons for farmers’ preoccupation with the weather.

Farmers after all are no different to anyone else in business. Everyone likes to feel they are in control and the weather is one of the key things farmers want on their side but it is the very thing they have no control over. But whilst you can’t control the weather you can certainly control how you are prepared for it.

Rain is topical this year right across the country. In our region we had our so called 1 in 50 year flood in March when 500 mm or 20 inches of rain fell in 48 hours. So what does that look like?

Well here is a typical sunny day at Lemon Grove Research Farm for the cows

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This is what it looked like in the same place at 10am on March 21st during our 1 in 50 year flood

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The same spot one hour later. The water rose in front of our very eyes. So fast we almost didn’t get cows onto higher ground quick enough and five cows washed away and sadly one drowned.

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And what was happening at the home farm?

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  This is our neighbour Viv determined to get “that shot”. 

This was almost repeated two weeks ago when we had 8 inches (200mm) in 8 hours

This year we have had at total of 110 inches (2500mm) of rain. This is 65% more rain than our average good year but it is a “drought” compared to 1950 and 1974 when the farm had a whopping 140 inches (3500mm)

So what about all that green grass you ask?

Grass for cows (or should I say pasture) is all about quality not quantity. Cows are discerning diners as my good friend Milk Maid Marian says. They like grass that is short and sweet.

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It doesn’t get much better than this

Short. sweet grass is full of sugar. For plants to produce sugar they need plenty of sunshine.

Looking back from Easts to Cows in Yard Paddock 0011

Chocolate for cows 

In fact growing grass is a fine art that all good dairy farmers have perfected to a tee and there is a saying in the industry that the difference between a good farm and the rest in just two weeks.

In fact we are doing pasture trials at the Lemon Grove Farm just to prove the anecdotal evidence.

Michael in Lucerne @ Lemon Grove

Michael is a bit of a pasture guru as you can see

There is a great little story on how we grow grass at Clover Hill Dairies as part of the Jet and Emma Farm Management Series here if you would like to know the nitty gritty.

This is also time of the year when farmers often take advantage of the excess of grass to store some fodder for winter by cutting high quality pasture to make hay and silage.

It isn’t a myth. You do need to make hay while the sun shines but for that you need a 48 hour window of dry weather

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Making Hay on Jamberoo Swamp (Photograph courtesy of Linda Faiers copyright)

As I said earlier dairy farmers can’t control the weather but we can prepare for it and often that is just simple things.

For example cows are no difffrent to people when it comes to wet feet. Just like standing in water makes your feet soft and wrinkley so does standing in wet soggy paddocks for cows. So we do things like add extra zinc to the cows feed to help harden their hooves which helps reduce the incidence of sore feet.

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Each cow gets fed a specially formulated ration in the dairy at every milking. This is a perfect way to fine tune the diet when weather conditions and pasture growth aren’t ideal for cows.

We also make sure our laneways are super smooth highways and the team are very mindful of the cows and move them at very gentle pace during the wet especially on the home farm where the hills become very slippery.

Strongs veiw to the sea

The mountainside that looks so pretty can be turn into a cow slippery slide nightmare in a couple of hours

The perfect place to dairy

Jamberoo is the birth place of the Australian dairy industry and its still a great place to dairy for all the right reasons. We have great volcanic soil, which means despite all the rain the drainage is still excellent and the water moves away very quickly. Our cows aren’t whingeing as you can see.

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There is always plenty to eat Rain Hail or Shine

What about the radio interivew you ask?  Well except for managing to move the flood back a whole month ( cant believe I said that) it went off okay. You can decide here