Saturday, April 20, 2024

Catch the Rain out to make every drop count

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New BLNZ project explores strategies to make the most of the rainfall in dry country.
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Quorum Sense and Beef + Lamb New Zealand have launched a new project, Catch the Rain, trialling management strategies to make the most of the rain that falls on dryland pastoral farms. 

The two-and-a-half-year project led by farmer network Quorum Sense and funded by BLNZ will see more than 40 dryland farmers around the country run on-farm trials to monitor and compare the impact of various management practices on their soils’ rainfall infiltration and moisture retention. 

The idea for the project stemmed from some farmers in the Quorum Sense network observing significant improvements in rainfall infiltration (or reduced runoff) as a result of implementing certain practices intended in help improve soil health.  These improvements anecdotally translated into better summer/autumn pasture growth and potential reduction in flood peaks. 

With extreme weather events having an increasing impact on farmers, learning how to replicate these improvements represents a big opportunity.

Mid-Canterbury farmer Sam Lang, who is the Catch the Rain project lead for Quorum Sense, said he is excited to see what farmers discover from the trials. 

“The farmers decide what practices they want to trial and we support them with trial design, monitoring tools etcetera. Where trials show improvements, hopefully farmers will gain the confidence and experience to expand these practices across their farms. If they don’t, farmers will have learnt a lot about their soils and pastures in the process and be well placed to try something different,” he said.

Wairarapa sheep and beef hill country farmers Michael and Kate Tosswill run 130 cattle and more than 2000 ewes on their 586 hectare station. 

As part of Catch the Rain, they’ve set up two trials to test the impact of different grazing management, as well as inputs designed to promote soil biology.

“In recent years, we’ve witnessed more extreme weather patterns – it’s been very wet to very dry,” Michael said. 

“For us, joining the project is about learning more about our soils and how to hold onto more moisture in the critical dry periods. We spend a lot of time looking above the ground, but what we’re excited about with Catch the Rain is digging deeper into what’s going on underground.”

Farmers involved in Catch the Rain range from smaller flat farms to genuine high country, light soils to heavy, low rainfall to high, sheep breeding to dairy grazing. 

Suzi Keeling from BLNZ said “this is about ensuring our sheep and beef farmers, now and in the future, have the tools, knowledge and the data to be more resilient in times of drought and weather extremes”.

The project, also supported by scientists from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Plant + Food Research and Massey University, kicked off with four farmer workshops late last year. 

Three-quarters of participating farmers have established their trials and baseline monitoring so far. Monitoring data is recorded by farmers using the Soilmentor app, which links to a shared platform where participants can see all the data and trends.

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