‘Good’ farm­ers face un­cer­tain fu­ture

CHB Mail - - NEWS -

A project aimed at de­ter­min­ing how Tuk­i­tuki catch­ment farm­ers will oper­ate un­der new ni­tro­gen leach­ing tar­gets has found sig­nif­i­cant changes will have to made to achieve the re­duced lev­els.

Hawke’s Bay Re­gional Coun­cil’s Plan Change 6 out­lines Land Use Ca­pa­bil­ity (LUC) ni­tro­gen leach­ing rates for all farms, de­pend­ing on their phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics and at­tributes, that have to be achieved by May 2020.

Farm­ers un­able to reach these rates could ap­ply for re­source con­sents pro­vided they stay within 30 per cent of the pre­scribed rate.

Dubbed ‘Green­ing Tuk­i­tuki’, the project be­gan late last year and in­volved two dairy farm­ers and two sheep and beef or feed­lot farm­ers in the Tuk­i­tuki val­ley catch­ment, aimed at help­ing farm­ers find ways to reach the new tar­gets.

When it be­gan, the project found ni­tro­gen-leach­ing rates on the four farms ranged from 7 to 91 per cent above the new al­lowance, and reg­u­lar meet­ings had been held over the past six months to in­ves­ti­gate their op­er­a­tions, said project leader and MyFarm con­sul­tant Rachel Baker.

For Taka­pau-based feed­lot farmer and agri­cul­tural con­trac­tor Rob Fo­ley, data showed the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to ni­tro­gen loss were the 1100 dairy cows he grazed for other Tuk­i­tuki farm­ers on his free-drain­ing flats in win­ter.

Baker said the prob­lem with dairy cows was that their urine flow was more force­ful and the ni­tro­gen more con­cen­trated. In com­par­i­son bull urine was less con­cen­trated and/or dis­persed more widely.

Rather than con­duct­ing ex­pen­sive bore test­ing to de­ter­mine the ex­act amount of leach­ing, Fo­ley de­cided to re­move the dairy cows and re­place them with half the num­ber of bulls.

This re­sulted in re­duc­ing ni­tro­gen loss from 41 to 36kg ni­tro­gen per hectare per year, but still well above the tar­get rate of 23kg.

En­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant Colin Tyler had been work­ing with Fo­ley and said cows were not the only con­trib­u­tor, and that the crops also played a part.

“Data shows that the 7 per cent of this prop­erty in a ro­ta­tion con­tain­ing win­ter wheat was con­tribut­ing to 38 per cent of the ni­tro­gen leach­ing to­tal.

“This is not just a live­stock prob­lem, it’s crops as well. And meet­ing these tar­gets is go­ing to be very hard for these arable guys too.”

While glad the study had iden­ti­fied mea­sures he could take to re­duce his im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment, Fo­ley said he was wor­ried about the im­pli­ca­tions for the dairy farm­ers that he used to of­fer graz­ing to.

“Where will those cows go in win­ter? Who is pre­pared to take that on that cost?”

At the other end of the Tuk­i­tuki catch­ment, Ash­ley Clin­ton dairy farm­ers Andy and Rob­bie Hunt were find­ing it chal­leng­ing to bring their 120-year-old, 123ha farm milk­ing 330 cows within 30 per cent of its leach­ing rate tar­get of 21kg of ni­tro­gen per hectare per year.

En­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant Dr Deb­bie Care, who mapped the farm’s soils and to­pog­ra­phy and mod­elled dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios for the op­er­a­tion said this was frus­trat­ing.

“It’s not like Andy is push­ing this land to its limit. He has a low stock­ing rate and he doesn’t use much ni­tro­gen. He’s right up there with best-prac­tice mod­els — he’s a very good farmer.”

Andy Hunt said so­lu­tions such as build­ing a herd home to re­move the cows from wet pad­docks would re­quire an in­vest­ment of at least $600,000 with no guar­an­tee he would ob­tain a con­sent.

“I’d like to know if we will get a con­sent. It’s likely that we are go­ing to be 40 per cent over our LUC rate with cur­rent mea­sure­ment sys­tems — will the coun­cil give us a con­sent at that? Or should I just shut up shop now and walk away?”

The next stage of the Green­ing Tuk­i­tuki project would as­sess the eco­nomic and so­cial im­pact of the pro­posed so­lu­tions for each farm.

The project was spon­sored by AGMARDT, Hawke’s Bay Re­gional Coun­cil, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Bal­lance Agri Nu­tri­ents, DairyNZ and ANZ.

PHO­TOS: SUP­PLIED

CHAL­LENG­ING TAR­GETS: ‘Green­ing Tuk­i­tuki’ project man­ager Rachel Baker and Andy Hunt at his Ash­ley Clin­ton dairy farm.

PROJECT PAR­TIC­I­PANT: Taka­pau-based feed­lot farmer and agri­cul­tural con­trac­tor Rob Fo­ley.

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