Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Leap of Faith, New Zealand Day 2

Well, everyone who told me I would love New Zealand was right.  The scenery has been fantastic, very few cars on the road and agriculture everywhere.  Our morning started with Greg Muller who is a contractor using a Cross Slot and a John Deere drill.  Greg specialises in direct drilling grass seeds and brassica's, with either drill, for dairy farmers.  The turnips are used as part of the grassland rejuvenation process.  The 'permanent' grass is sprayed off when the productivity (sward growth) reaches a certain point and the turnips are direct drilled into the dying turf.  The turnips, depending on the variety are grazed off over the summer period before returning the field to grassland the following autumn.  Seem like a very sensible plan to me, I wonder if we could do that at home where grass has been planted for more than 5 years and is deemed 'permanent' by DEFRA?  Answers on a post card, but to me that sounds like a very sensible break, and if drilled correctly will not have soil erosion issues.
However if done incorrectly, i.e. will full cultivations and by that I mean heavy discing, power harrowing, drilling and rolling, then the soil becomes unstable and with heavy rain, and in parts of New Zealand anything from 50-100mm in an hour, (where we were) and you know the soil is only going to wash down the slope.
We met up with Geoff Scott, one of Greg's Cross Slot customers and looked at a field of turnips planted with the Cross Slot drill directly into the sprayed off turf.  Geoff runs the family farm milking 600 cows, once a day on 750 acres.  Geoff's system is very simple and was working really well; a very impressive farmer, with a grasp of world markets and trends as well as intricate knowledge of his cost of production.  Geoff is investing in a new 'cow shed' to expand the operation and go to twice a day milking, whilst remaining committed to a simple grass based, all feed grown on the farm, system. This reduces his exposure to world market fluctuations in grain prices.  Geoff made a very good comment to me about his definition of farm sustainability 'being able to do the same thing in 150-300 years without impacting on the environment'.  
After a quick bite to eat we left Geoff and headed about 100Km to Taupo where we picked up Sophie (2013 Nuffield Scholar) and headed out to Donald and Kirsten Watsons farm on the road to Napier.  Donald is a share milker on 1,000 cows on some really thin soil over pumice rock.  Donald is keen on the cross slot drill for establishment especially in the spring for his brassica break crops.  Yields have been improved on this this soil from 7t/ha (conventionally established - plough based) to about 12t/Ha.  The yield increase is mainly due to retaining the soil moisture at drilling by minimal disturbance on the soil surface. Interestingly Donald is looking to plant oats and forage rye in the autumn for winter feed and then follow that with brassicas in the spring to rest the land from grass for a whole season.
Before we headed to Donald's farm, whilst in Taupo I did my first Bungy jump!  I thoroughly enjoyed  it and might even try and fit another one if time allows.  He's me, setting off on the 47m drop, down into the Waikato river, literally! Great fun, if slightly scary. Thanks Nuffield for that one!

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