Research farm conversion opens opportunities for environmental impact studies

The creation of a new Research and Development Station at Lincoln University’s Ashley Dene farm is being described as an unrivalled opportunity for collaboration between industry research bodies, in the interests of sustainable, profitable farming.

The R&D station has been designed to provide opportunities for University staff and students to conduct leading-edge research to reduce the environmental impacts of dairy farming.  It is expected to increase opportunities for collaboration between the University’s own faculties and Lincoln Hub partners and secure additional research income for Lincoln University.

The initiative will result in 190 hectares of Ashley Dene being developed for dairy farm systems-scale research.

Research into two dairying systems will be conducted:. 140 hectares will be developed as an irrigated block with 450 cows and 50 hectares will be developed as a dryland block with 106 cows. First milking is planned for spring 2016.

The first project will use novel 13C isotope approaches to measure the rate of soil organic matter turnover in the two dairy systems, along with stabilisation of carbon inputs to the soil from the vegetation.

These are key determinants of whether the systems accumulate or lose soil carbon.

Funding has been secured from the Ministry for Primary Industries and the research will begin next spring, involving Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University.

Dr Grant Edwards, Professor of Dairy Production at Lincoln University, is one of the leaders for the station’s development.

He says it will create a new platform to develop effective and profitable farming systems and technologies to help farmers to achieve sustainable production and protect the environment.

The new dairy platforms will integrate cropping and pasture systems, including the use of lucerne, maize and a range of winter forage crops.

Research will explore how to reduce the nutrient losses by taking cows off pasture and/or crops in late autumn and winter for a significant portion of the day to rest and ruminate on stand-off pads.

Nutrient leaching will be reduced through the capture of the effluent which will then be applied, at a later date, to crops and pastures on the farm.

Lincoln Hub founding partners in particular will be able to use the farm for collaborative research projects.

Peter Millard of Landcare Research, one of the Hub partners, says the development of the two new dairy platforms gives an unrivalled opportunity for collaboration between Lincoln University and Landcare Research.

“Using a mixture of core funding and realignment of commercial projects, Landcare Research will be installing instruments to measure the net exchange of water, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the two dairy systems.

“At the same time, assisted by funding from the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Centre, we will be installing large lysimeters in both dairy systems. This will enable us to measure the net gaseous fluxes of nitrogen and carbon in the system, as well as any N or C lost through the soil by leaching. Together, these provide a unique opportunity to study the impact of intensification of dairying on the whole carbon and nitrogen cycles”.

Ross Monaghan of fellow Lincoln Hub partner, AgResearch, says a study proposal is being prepared for funding consideration.

“It will form part of a programme to be put forward for funding consideration by the Pastoral21 investors later this year.

“Our intention is to see if we can develop some low-cost approaches to standing cows off pastures and crops as a strategy for reducing the potential impacts of farming activities on water quality. This strategy is particularly relevant to areas used for winter forage grazing by cows, where soil damage and nutrient losses to water are relatively high.

“Lincoln University’s team are planning to explore the feasibility of low cost materials for use in standoff pads; this approach will be complemented by research in Southland and Waikato that will evaluate the feasibility of using other surfaces such as geotextile products and C-based materials that are located in-situ i.e. within the crop paddock.”

The development of the standoff pads or in-situ material will require a comprehensive approach, of which animal welfare will be an essential consideration.

The important dryland sheep research that Lincoln University conducts at Ashley Dene will continue on the Homestead and Cemetery blocks, as well as on part of the newly irrigated Main block.

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