Monday, February 26, 2024

Knowledge is power when considering options on farm

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Ongoing research helps Kiwi dairy farmers remain world-leading.
Cattle on plantain Plantain shoot for Dairy NZ. Dannevirke, NZ
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By Bridget Maclean, GM new systems and competitiveness

DairyNZ’s world-leading scientists continue to develop practical and cost-effective solutions to help farmers meet environmental regulations and consumer expectations. 

This year we are focused on progressing research programmes, in reducing methane emissions and water quality research.

Regarding methane emissions, our methane research team is working to develop mitigation solutions that can be easily adopted to reduce on-farm emissions, while maintaining productivity and profitability. 

This research programme is investigating options to reduce total methane emissions (per hectare); and methane emissions intensity (per kg milksolids). 

We are scanning solutions being used in other countries, but farmers in many of these countries feed their cows rations in feedlots or barns, so we need to evaluate technologies and delivery options that work for our pasture-based farm systems. 

We are also testing methane reducing compounds delivered to cows daily using in-shed feeding systems or in-paddock automated feeders, delivered via slow-release boluses and fed to young calves pre-weaning to alter their lifetime emissions. 

Another area focuses on understanding the effect of farm system changes, such as stocking rate, cow genetic merit, supplementary feed and nitrogen fertiliser inputs, on greenhouse gas emissions and farm performance (people, profit and production). 

We work with farmers on all these projects. Farmers have been advising on options for incorporating these methane-reducing compounds into grazing farm systems and providing feedback on barriers to or opportunities for adopting new solutions. 

We are also about to start a four-year New Zealand/Ireland joint research programme to better understand methane emissions from pasture-based systems, such as in both these countries. Although feed intake is the key driver of methane emissions, research indicates there are differences in methane emissions throughout the season and with different feeds. 

That’s why this programme aims to determine methane emissions from cows grazing pasture during the season, and from cows grazing different pasture species (for example, clover or plantain). This will ensure methane emissions from pasture-based systems are accurately accounted for at a farm and national level.   

We have a range of research projects underway regarding water quality research that has us working with farmers to reduce N leaching and improve water quality. These projects include the Low-N Systems programme and the Plantain Potency and Practice Programme

As part of our Low-N Systems research, we’re determining the effect of combining different mitigation strategies into farm systems. For example, is there an additive effect from reducing N fertiliser use plus incorporating diverse pastures, such as plantain and Italian ryegrass? 

Determining the most successful and viable combinations will help farmers achieve N-loss reduction targets while maintaining farm business viability. DairyNZ and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment fund this research, with support from Fonterra and CRV. 

The Plantain Potency and Practice Programme supports farmers nationwide to incorporate plantain on farm. Trial results to date indicate Ecotain plantain can be successfully incorporated into farm systems, to significantly reduce N losses while maintaining milk production.

DairyNZ leads this programme, with co-funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures initiative, as well as commercial partners Fonterra and PGG Wrightson Seeds.  

Research is also underway into solutions that will help reduce other contaminant losses on farms. DairyNZ is working with AgResearch and farmers in the Manawatū-Whanganui region to measure, monitor and reduce E coli losses into waterways. The knowledge gained from this project will be used to develop strategies for other regions.

We’re excited about our continued work alongside farmers and other sector and research organisations to develop mitigation solutions for our unique pasture-based farm systems – and to get ahead of the environmental challenges farmers face. Together, we can get the best results for the sector. 

This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

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