We take a science-based approach to our business’s sustainability. That’s why our study sees our farms run 50% conventionally and 50% regeneratively; to make sure we can accurately compare the two systems.
When quantifying the difference between the approaches, we need to allow for seasonal variations. So we’re taking the average of the last four seasons’ base-line figures on production, profit, and environment. In doing so, we aim to give New Zealand’s dairy farming community realistic and unbiased data on regenerative farming. So they can make an informed decision about whether to adopt a regenerative approach.
Farm by farm breakdown
Our support block, Hinterlands, has already been converted to 100% regenerative.
Clareview is transitioning to a regenerative system. To limit variability, Clareview will be run 50% regenerative and 50% conventional for two seasons. 50% of the grazed area has been converted so far. We’re running two herds – one regenerative, one conventional – each on their respective type of pasture. By 2022-2023, the farm will have transitioned to 100% regenerative.
Like Clareview, Longfield is also currently transitioning. For the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons, 50% will be regenerative and 50% conventional. As of 2023-2024, the farm will be operating at 100% regenerative.
EMILIUS & JACAWANDA
As a benchmark, Emilius and Jacawanda will continue to be run on a conventional system.
We’re also actively investigating how to reduce our wintering footprint, and we bought Noremac specifically to help us do this. In 2021, cows began wintering on Normac, and 203 ha were converted into a dryland regenerative dairy unit. Eventually, Noremac will fully transition into an irrigated regenerative support block for wintering dry cows and young stock.
Align Regen Transition Methodology
Terminate Ryegrass Paddocks
Ryegrass/white clover terminated with 3-4 L of glyphosate (depending on weed pressure), 1 L/ha of Fulvic acid, 10L/ha of EM, 10 L/ha of fish fertiliser and 100 L/ha of water to buffer impact of glyphosate on soil biology.
Annual Set Up Crops
If paddock needs remediation (pugging or compaction issues) direct drill diverse annual set up crop (17-21 species) at 5-7 inch spacing, (the tighter the better) typically in Oct or Nov but later in summer is effective. This will help stimulate soil biology and the different root lengths will break up the soil and help to mobilise nutrients.
Crop reaches maturity at varying stages but depending on sowing date, after approximately 100 days, or 10 TDM is an ideal time to commence grazing.
Grazed by stock for 2 hrs/day with target utilisation of 6 TDM with the remainder trampled into the soil.
Provides stock 4-5 kg DM/cow/day and allows the round length to be extended.
Diverse Perennial Mix
Immediately after grazing the set-up crop, sow a diverse perennial pasture mix (15+ species) with either cross slot or direct drill depending on slash/crop content remaining.
If no set up crop is required, you can go directly into the perennial mix. This has the benefit of not taking a paddock out of rotation for the additional 4-month period that occurs with the annual mix.
Grazing Diverse Perennial Mix
Graze paddock at 4500-5000 kgDM/ha with a target residual of 2000-2500 kgDM/ha.
We top if required for quality but still leaving target residual.
By leaving longer residuals the plant is able to harness sunlight more readily and resume growth faster than seen when grazed down to 1500 kgDM/ha residuals as seen in conventional model. There is less damage to roots with this approach as well.
When quality is poor the paddock will be mob grazed and shifted 6-7 times a day at high densities depending on desired round length at the time.
In our experience, the ryegrass will dominate for the initial stages of regrowth, after about 20 days the diversity begins to appear with high levels achieved at 45 days.
Aiming for a round length of 35-45 days, which we believe is the optimal time for quality, growth and species diversity available to the stock.
Herd was split in half on June 1st and will remain in that herd for duration of trial.
The herd was split by age group and then within each group, split by BW and PW.
Due to different stocking rates, the regen herd is 40% of the original herd and the conventional herd is 60%.
We will have a springer mob and a colostrum mob for both the regenerative and the conventional herd and they will be on their respective side of the farm.
Any animal health treatments will be given to both sides as required.
We will apply the same minerals to the paddock for both herds to avoid any complications that could arise from not providing to the regenerative side.
We have soil moisture monitors under both the regenerative and conventional pastures and managers will use that data, as well as visual assessments to determine irrigation frequency.
We have installed water use monitors at the base of all pivots to track future water usage by each pivot which will allow us to quantify the difference in water requirements between the two systems.
Full farm soil testing completed annually, and deficiencies will be addressed on both sides as required.
The aim is to minimise synthetic inputs into the regenerative side, but we are open to using them if necessity arises, although we will explore other avenues first.
Agronomics creates the fertiliser plans for both sides of the farm.
Conventional side will get roughly 190 kgN/ha applied throughout the season, with applications following each grazing. Superphosphate and other maintenance fertilisers will also be applied based on soil tests.
Annual primer mix receives two dressings of 10 L/ha of hydrolysed fish fertiliser and 5 L/ha of EM (effective micro-organisms). The first when crop is at ankle height, the second at knee height.
Perennial pasture mixes will have 5 L/ha of both hydrolysed fish fertiliser and Em applied after each grazing. Roughly 34 kgN/ha applied each season.
Other sources of nutrients on the regenerative side include mushroom compost, traditional compost, guano, elemental sulphur and chicken and pig manure. Soil test results will be closely monitored to ensure we are not mining nutrients from the soil, although we suspect the soil is capable of cycling more nutrients than the conventional model achieves.
Our intention was to winter the regenerative herd on a diverse winter mix that was brassica dominant with supplementary meadow hay and the conventional herd on kale with supplementary straw.
Due to prolonged drought on our dryland winter block we had to feed most of our diverse crop to our young stock because they don’t do well on kale, leaving less for the regenerative herd who will graze Kale instead.
Next season we hope to have enough diverse winter mixes to keep the regen herd fed all winter.