Farming with reduced winter cropping in southern New Zealand: the risks and practicalities
Winter cropping practices to provide feed for livestock are being challenged by new freshwater and animal welfare regulations. Investigations to reduce reliance on winter forage crops in southern New Zealand tested farming resilience and practical on-farm all-grass wintering using 60% of the 13,900 breeding ewes at Mararoa Station in the Te Anau basin. Testing the system robustness over time, using modelling of climatic variation, demonstrated that reducing the area of winter forage crop by 25% increased EBITDA by approximately 6% and had similar variations in net earnings over a 10-year period of pasture and crop yield fluctuations. On-farm testing highlighted the need for long-term planning and active management of both the feed resource and animals. Active engagement and contributions of staff were the key to implementing a Less-crop system. Measuring pastures and animal responses provided data to inform key decision making. The success of this test demonstrated the need for staff engagement and accurate implementation from the management team on the ground. The team needed to be open minded, well planned and have a willingness to implement new practices and learn on the job, providing a platform for future success. Forward planning using Farmax modelling provided a framework for the implementation of the practical test and provided confidence to test future reductions in winter forage crops. Changes to whole-farm practices need to incorporate activities throughout the year to implement significant reductions in winter forage crop use.
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