Country-wide September, 2017

Page 48

Farm managers Glenn Jones, Paul Whittaker, and Robin Hornblow.


RENEWAL ON THE PLAINS Renewal of the pasture of a Canterbury farming business’s four farms inside four years was conducted like a military operation. Anne Lee reports. If there was a catch phrase for Camden Group’s massive pasture renewal programme it would have to be go early and go hard. The family owned Canterbury farming business is in the fourth season of what’s become an epic tale of mega-grass proportions. It’s a story of bold endeavour, battlelike planning, triumphs, financial hurdles as the milk price fell through the floor, a plot detour and even the odd defeat. And while its final chapter hasn’t yet been written, the spoiler alert is that the initial plot was right all along and a happy ending is now in sight. The story began back in early 2013 with a gutsy call to renew a third of the group’s milking platforms in just one season followed by similar rates of renewal over the next few seasons so that within close to four years the full 800 hectares would be in new permanent pasture. The grand plan aimed at very quickly improving the amount of home-grown feed, to rid the group’s farms of a significant proportion of the bought-in supplements that over time had crept into the system. The increase in supplements, to almost a tonne of bought-in feed per cow, mirrored the slow creep of unproductive, matted, old grasses such as browntop,


sweet vernal and Yorkshire fog back into the sward. Like most Canterbury dairy farms their history as dryland operations means the soils still play host to a rich seed bank of these old grasses. Given any opportunity the sleeping old timers will stealthily awaken and invade.

Pasture monitoring was telling them new grass paddocks sown the season before were outperforming older pastures by a country mile.

Camden group general manager Leo Donkers says the renewal plan aimed to rapidly call a halt to these creeping invaders, quickly reversing the trend in supplement use and boosting the amount of high quality home-grown pasture harvested by cows. One of the group’s farms, the 306ha Te Pirita property Willsden, is part of a benchmarking group with Lincoln University Dairy Farm. Data collection, monitoring and analysis have always been part of

Going early One of the keys to success in this large-scale renewal programme using short-term Italian ryegrass has been sowing it early. As soon as the soil temperature hits 7-8C in mid-September it’s time to go in, Graham says. “Italians and annuals will grow in temperatures 5C lower than perennials so 7-8C is ideal compared with perennials that really want temperatures to be up at 12C,” he says. “We learned the lesson about going early in the first year because although the late-September-sown Italian was a little slower out of the blocks than the October-sown tranche, when we crunched the numbers the Septembersown grew 0.5-0.7t DM/ha more than the October,” Graham says. “It’s also important for us sowing three tranches that the first goes in early enough otherwise you end up getting into the worst time of the year from a feed point of view and you’re still re-pasturing,” Leo says. One of the benefits of going early is that contractors are also more likely to be free at that time.

Camden’s DNA. Leo’s brother and partner in the business, John Donkers is also a farm consultant and operations manager Terry Kilday has a strong focus on

Country-Wide September 2017

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