28 Oct 2015

Farmers urged to re-grass and renew pasture

8:40 pm on 28 October 2015

At a time of low dairy prices, with many farmers looking to cut costs where they can, the Pasture Renewal Trust is urging people not to turn their back on re-grassing.

The trust was set up to encourage farmers to renew their pasture more often and eight years ago it set a national target to have farmers replacing 10 percent of their pasture each year.

The trust's project manager Tim Wood said that figure had not quite been reached, however, this season's weaker dairy payout had put the importance of renewing grass back in the spotlight.

DairyNZ figures show dairy farmers spent $73 per hectare on re-grassing in the 2013/14 season, an increase of $56 compared to what they were spending more than 10 years ago ($17 p/ha in the 2004/05 season).

Mr Wood said renewing pasture could offer big returns.

"In the past renewal rates have been very low. Typically between two and three percent for sheep and beef sector and around six to eight percent in the dairy sector.

"With the weaker dairy prices farmers have had to focus on pasture because supplementary feeds are expensive. Pasture is still our cheapest feed and they have to prioritise where they spend.

"DairyNZ's economic survey, on average it's suggesting that dairy farmers only spend about 1 percent of their operating costs on pasture renewal, so if you're a farmer and you're looking at priorities, chopping out pasture renewal doesn't have a very big effect on your costs... if you have a look at some of the returns you can get on renewing pasture, and ANZ's work would suggest somewhere between 10 to 35 percent, you have to think pretty carefully about not renewing pasture."

Mr Wood said now was the time for farmers to upskill or hone in on their pasture management skills.

New or different pastures can be a game changer in drier areas, he said.

"Some farms in Marlborough for instance are putting in Lucerne as a pasture. Other places up in Northland are using fescue and clover that are deeper rooting than rye grasses. Plantain is also having a place now in our pasture and there's a number of plantain and clover pastures around, so there are alternatives.

"Some of the results that have been achieved by one or two farms in the Marlborough area are pretty spectacular."