Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Kiwi farming takes off

Pastoral farming in China’s southwest province Guizhou has taken root thanks to a strong Kiwi connection.

New Zealanders have been providing pastoral farming expertise through several aid projects, lifting lifted small-farm productivity. A cornerstone of the projects has been the Dushan Pastoral and Seed Farm demonstration farm in southern Guizhou.

In a joint project by the New Zealand and Chinese governments the farm was originally set up as a model herbage seed and pastoral farm in 1983. It grew seed and ran livestock, demonstrating NZ agronomy and animal husbandry practices to local farmers.

Initial help came from Kiwis like plant scientist Phil Rolston, who visited in 1983, and Mid-Canterbury farmer Graham Lill, 1984. They taught the Chinese how to grow ryegrasses, red and white clover seed, Phil the technical side, Graham the applied.

The seed was dressed by a plant built on the farm, and new pasture varieties were distributed to local farmers. From 1983-1990, several New Zealanders were involved in expanding pastoral farming and 12 Chinese came and studied at Massey.

Later in 1992, farm consultant Tim Harvey joined Phil and taught animal husbandry. All three were involved in other aid programmes in China. Phil and Tim went on to receive awards and honours for their work – they were awarded the Chinese Friendship Medal, China’s highest award to foreigners.

In those early days there were many problems and challenges, with soil test showing soils of pH 4.2 and Olsen-P of 3-4.

One of the main issues was reproductive performance. Conception rates on beef and dairy farms ranged from 17-27%. The artificial insemination technicians would thaw the semen, wrap it in a towel, and walk 50 minutes to a farm. The best conception rates (over 50%) were in the winter.

Under feeding was an issue with poor-quality maize residue and other low maintenance-type feeds often fed to pregnant animals.

Gradually conception rates were lifted as the NZ pastoral system was adopted and basic animal husbandry and agronomy – like the importance of good-quality pasture feed and feeding – was taught.

Beef cattle and goats are traditional livestock so the NZ and United Nations aid projects improving the farming of these were successful.

The making of silage allowed farmers to increase stock numbers, which increased the nutrient cycle for forage and cash crops like rice.

Growing annual ryegrass in the rice fields proved effective and increased protein availability.

Summer monsoons coincided with the harvests, which wasn’t conducive to seed production. Also, seed production had been undermined by seed imported into China from the United States and Europe.

A farm manager, Ding En Shen, converted Dushan to dairying over a 15-year period. He is now a successful dairy farmer with 40 cows. Today Dushan is still a demonstration farm with an under-utilised dairy operation and a few Corriedale sheep.

About 20 tonnes of ryegrass seed is still harvested and sold to farmers. The farm is well-equipped with cultivation and harvesting machinery, and has a workshop. One old and one relatively modern Claas combine sit in the sheds.

Dushan remains a training centre for animal science students, farm advisers and farmers. Farmers still come to the farm to learn how to overcome technical problems.

Dushan farm key facts

  •  Set up by Chinese Government with training from NZ consultants
  •  One of the few all-year-round outdoor dairy grazing operations in China
  •  Small milk-processing plant sells fresh milk
  •  The milk plant processes 2500-4000kg of milk/day
  •  Extensive pasture development but farm under utilised

Quality land issue

Guizhou lacks good dairy land because of the hilly-mountainous topography and the fragmented farmland. Any large parcels of good land are swallowed up by big indoor operations or land-banked by commercial investors from countries like Israel, Taiwan or Singapore.

As in the rest of the world, urban sprawl is also taking up good land. Most of the opportunity exists in developing marginal land or older state farms.

A job well done.

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