Day four: Investing in dairy’s future

A bleary start for some following a night with the Hamilton City Young Farmers group saw the study group set off for two farm visits:

The Agresearch Tokanui dairy research farm was our first stop. An industry based and private funded research farm, the focus is on running studies and research over profit. Staff numbers are higher than traditional based farms to help facilitate studies. The paddock split and rotations are based around managing farm stocking rates and maintaining study herds. The purpose built farm has many controls and measurements in place to readily obtain data. The farm is home to two rotary dairies under the one roof; a 60 stand and 20 stand that is used for research programs to minimise the disruption to the remaining herd.

The cows were electronic identified, daily milk production and conductivity was measured and recorded, ACR, automated teatspray in the exit races and weight bridges were all inbuilt features. Farm staff hold regular meetings with the scientist to ensure good understanding of the studies and to ensure no surprises came up. Effluent management is a recurring theme on farms with nitrogen leaching a massive environmental hurdle. Tradition effluent management of ponds is being discouraged and movement is towards lined storage facilities and on farm utilisation of effluent on paddocks.

Kihikihi, a small farming hamlet, provided a treat for lunch with their award winning pies. The seafood was definitely a crowd pleaser!

Peter and Sarah Walters of Otorohanga hosted the group for the afternoon. They run 7 dairy farms in an equity partnership with Peter’s father. Each farm is operated as a separate entity with minimal cross over in cattle, staff and machinery. Sarah’s background in accountancy has her focus on the farms business concerns and staff recruitment. Peter is more hands-on on farms, ideally spending a week a month milking between the sheds and other farm duties.

Image caption: Tokanui Dairy Research Farm

The Walters believe the dairy industry’s approach to farm health and safety in New Zealand a critical factor to address as well as the environmental restrictions that are encroaching on dairy.

Image caption: Yellow bristle grass and weed management at Tokanui

An overwhelming impression given from farmers we have spoken to this week is the positivity in the industry, viewing dairy farming as a highly profitable and smart business choice. Clear pathways into the industry and a strong culture of focusing heavily on business management are two aspects which contribute to this.

Next stop: Rotorua!

…or so we thought until our GPS took us on a long and bumpy detour down a no exit road.

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