This morning we met up with our guide for the day, local farmer Graeme McKenzie, and ventured out into the cold and rain to meet dairy farmer Ewan Pirie at the Waituna Lagoon to discuss ongoing environmental issues in the area.
Ewan’s farm has been in the family since the late 1800’s and resides within the Waituna catchment area, so his knowledge of the history and current issues was extensive to say the least.
The Waituna catchment covers approx. 20,000ha, of which 1,900ha is lagoon, this attracts more than 80 species of birds along with a variety of fish and other native wildlife. There are currently around 130 farms within the catchment area, varying from dairy, sheep, beef, forestry and arable.
The lagoon is the lowest point in the catchment area and is fed by 3 creeks. As a result of dairy cow numbers more than doubling in the last 15yrs there has been a large increase in nitrogen and phosphorus levels which the local shire believe is causing a rapid decline in Ruppia (sea grass) resulting in the health issues for the lagoon. Because of this farmers in the area are concerned that the local shire may set new limitations on winter stocking rates on top of their already potentially decreasing herd numbers due to the nitrogen leeching restrictions soon to be introduced.
The farmers in the area have formed a group to try and find solutions that will benefit all parties, they are currently researching a potential channel running out of the lagoon but due to the enormity of the project it will take some time to ascertain whether it will be a viable option.
We then headed further south to visit Ewan Matheison on his 900 cow operation just out of Riverton. Ewan runs 600ha effective, 330ha of which is milking platform. The farm is run on a system 2/3 feeding regime consisting of around 650kg supplements per cow per year. Milk solid per cow increased dramatically between 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, however due to an overly wet spring last year production projections are down 10% this season.
The focal point of Ewan’s farm at this time is the recently installed 120kW solar power plant. He runs the whole shed plus the effluent and irrigation using this system and is very impressed with the return on his investment so far. According to figures it should pay for itself within 2 years. Prior to installing the solar energy he was paying around $3200-3300 a month for power, this month past he paid $0.00!!!
Our last visit for the day took us on a beautiful coastal drive to one of Graeme’s three family properties. The ‘Okara Farms’ is a family trust with two brothers Graeme and Blair, and father Gordon each being shareholders in the farm business. There are 23 staff including family involved in the operation. They run 2150 cows plus 500 yearlings and other young stock. Their main aim within the business is to provide a positive work environment and an opportunity for family and employees to grow within themselves and the business.
Today we visited the run-off property which is managed by Graeme. They have 390ha effective and grow Kale crops and also rye grass mixes which are cut several times for silage to store leading up to the wintering months. We have discovered quite an interesting and common practice here in NZ is setting up the silage bales at certain intervals down the paddocks for strip grazing. Each bale is set a certain distance away leaving enough room to set up strip fencing in between, then the bales are opened up as needed and a hay ring placed over them to save wastage.
Graeme is currently running 500 yearlings on the property and preparing for around 600 cows during the dry (wintering) period which runs from the last weekend of May until mid/late September. The cows are run in smaller herds depending on calving dates. The remaining months roughly from October until May is spent preparing for the next wintering season.
To finish off day 5 we were joined at dinner by the three farming couples that we will be visiting tomorrow. We had a great time picking their brains about what we might expect to see tomorrow and preparing them for the onslaught of questions they will very likely receive from us.