Friday, July 1, 2022

Best of both worlds

Finding what works best between New Zealand’s and Ireland’s pasture-based dairy industry, including lessons learned from housing cows during the winter will be a focal point during a six month sabbatical in Ireland for DairyNZ principal scientist John Roche. He was born in Ireland but has been working in this country for the past 13 years, apart from a short stint in Tasmania. He’ll leave his role as head of animal science next month (April) to spend six months at the National Centre for Dairy Production Research (Teagasc) in County Cork, Ireland. DairyNZ has a memorandum of understanding with Teagasc and Roche is keen to further the relationship between the two countries’ research facilities.

It is becoming increasingly worthwhile as the Irish and NZ dairy systems are aligning more every day, he said.

“They’ve been coming to meet our system very intensively for 20 years and we’re very rapidly going towards their system with housing cows in certain regions and supplementary feeds becoming more affordable.  

“So there is more of an overlap now than there ever has been and a real opportunity to capitalise on that – to learn from each other’s mistakes and build on each other’s successes.”

The west coast of Ireland has very heavy soils and high rainfall which makes it difficult to graze 365 days of the year, however from the midlands to the east coast many farmers have given up their barns and have built cheaper stand off areas, Roche said.

“One of the important things is to learn how they’ve got on with that,” he said.

“They’ve already had the infrastructure which many of NZ farmers are now investigating as options.

“We want to see what works and doesn’t work in their system and try to apply it where it will benefit.”

During the sabbatical, Roche will be working with the reproduction and nutrition team at Teagasc to see how they can align with DairyNZ work streams.

“Obviously we have a real interest in reproduction  and in improving success. Our current programme is looking at endometritis – the subclinical inflammation of the uterus – and we’ve been very interested in the effect of genetics on reproductive failure.”

Dr Stephen Butler at Teagasc has a programme working on a similar area of genetic reproductive failure so Roche will look at the work he’s doing and what the linkages are with DairyNZ research so they are not repeating the same work.

“We want to ensure we are getting better bang for our levy buck.”

DairyNZ has also been researching nutrition in regards to supplementary feeding for the last 15 years and Ireland has a nutrition programme that Roche is also keen to review.

“It’s about seeing what are they doing, what have they done, what we need to do, what we can do collectively and what don’t we need to do that’s already been done.”

He is also planning to integrate with the farm systems group to see the research they’ve been doing on optimal stocking rates and grazing residuals.

The Irish economy is projected to grow this year and the quota system which has been in place restricting the expansion of dairy farming due to be lifted in two years time.  

“Ireland is gearing up for significant expansion in the coming decade, very similar to what we’ve seen in Canterbury and Southland in the last 15 years although on a much smaller scale I would suspect,” he said.

“They recognise that the demand for food is going to exceed the supply and people are banking on the milk price to be good.”

Roche is also looking forward to taking his wife and two young sons back to his home country so they can spend time with their Irish grandparents and cousins.

During his sabbatical he will spend time travelling to different research stations in Europe to see what is happening with dairy research. He wants to particularly look at The Netherlands work on nitrogen (N) leaching and French research into milking frequency, once-a-day (OAD) milking, modelling and grazing systems.

“There’s a lot of overlap potentially with what we are doing. So this is a real opportunity to grow our critical mass and engage with other organisations.”

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