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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
Let’s not forget the gorgeous man who always not only brings the lunch he cooks it too
and serves it. Big shout out to Phil Monaghan and Weston Animal Nutrition
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