Symposium aims to help secure the future for NZ pastures

Farmers, scientists and rural industry leaders will meet in Waikato later this year to start mapping out a secure future for New Zealand pastures.

The Resilient Pastures Symposium (RPS), organised by the NZ Grassland Association (NZGA), comes 10 years after the association’s landmark Pasture Persistence Symposium.

With agriculture currently earning more than 40c in every NZ export dollar, organisers of the symposium say pasture – and innovative thinking about its prospects  – has never been more relevant.

Pasture provides NZ with a significant global advantage but faces increasing pressure from climate change, environmental regulation and social and market expectations.

“The uniqueness of NZ’s high value animal protein exports – their embedded naturalness and low per unit emissions compared with competitor countries – rests on our pasture base,” says RPS organising committee chair David Chapman, principal scientist at DairyNZ.

“We want to make sure our market strength continues to grow from this base, because that is critical to NZ’s economic future.”

The 2011 Pasture Persistence Symposium gave rise to significant new pasture R&D and industry-led initiatives, including the highly influential DairyNZ Forage Value Index.

NZGA president Warren King, senior scientist at AgResearch, says 10 years on, the climate change effects that were signalled in 2011 have intensified, and the physical environment for growing pasture is more challenging and volatile than ever.

But other challenges that barely registered then are now competing for the attention of researchers, plant breeders and farmers alike.

Environmental regulations are imposing caps on nutrient inputs and losses from pastoral systems. GHG emissions are being considered, with emphasis on reduction  .

Social and market expectation around the way animals are farmed and treated must be accommodated in farm practices.

 “And all this needs to be done using less land, with more trees being planted and better exclusion of waterways.”

David Chapman says that, in this context, all the signals suggest NZ grassland farmers will need more information and support over the next two decades than at any time in the past.

“So there is urgency to pinpoint the critical knowledge gaps and get to work on filling them. That’s what the symposium will focus on.

“Pasture persistence is still a key part of the programme, but the scope of this event has broadened to pastures that are resilient, and capable of playing their key role in meeting coming challenges.”

The RPS will highlight current soil, plant genetics and management solutions, and look towards future opportunities, giving those who attend a chance to contribute to charting future priorities, he says.

A key goal is to achieve broad-based primary sector collaboration and direction for further pasture development.

It also seeks Government and industry recognition of the pressing need to invest in future proofing pastures for the good of all New Zealanders.

The two-day programme will feature peer-reviewed research papers and a range of keynote presentations, including strong focus on farmers’ own experiences and observations.

The NZGA Resilient Pasture Symposium will be held 11 and 12 May at Karapiro.

Earlybird registrations open 1 March at

Source:  NZ Grassland Association

Regenerative agriculture – why robust research is critical

The New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science – concerned about the dearth of sound science underpinning the hype surrounding regenerative agriculture – has welcomed the Ministry for Primary Industries’ recent call for proposals for projects that will investigate regenerative farming practices.

Funding for successful proposals has been made available through the Ministry’s Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures co-investment fund, which aims to have projects under way by mid-2021.

“It can’t happen soon enough,” says Professor Jon Hickford, president of the NZIAHS.

“For some time we have been disquieted by the ballyhoo in support of regenerative agriculture in the absence of scientific studies into the implications of applying these practices to farm practices in this country.

“A sound evidence base is needed to test and confirm what works in New Zealand soils, climates, and farming systems.Continue reading

Impressive agricultural student claims Kate Sheppard award

A Lincoln University PhD student’s agricultural research has been recognised in her being awarded the Kate Sheppard Memorial Trust Award.

Laura Keenan’s research is focussed on creating a tool that will help predict the yield and quality of several plants and herbs that are being included in pasture mixes across much of the landscape to improve drought resilience and feed supply for farmers.

Karena Brown, Chairperson of the Kate Sheppard Memorial Trust, described Laura as an impressive young woman and said her research is vital as warmer temperatures across New Zealand result in more areas of the country increasingly experiencing drought conditions.

“With New Zealand’s reliance on the agricultural sector, we need such high calibre graduates undertaking study here, especially when the field of study is such a topical one,” she said.

Anything that could help drought-stricken farmers not only survive but thrive in the future was “something that we felt needed to be supported”..

“The Trust is very pleased to be able to continue to assist talented women achieve their dreams. Given the importance of food production around the world, the research being undertaken by this year’s recipient will be very important not only to New Zealand but to overseas as well.

“We are sure that Kate Sheppard would be proud to lend her name to such a worthwhile area of study.”

The award was announced on NZ Women’s Suffrage Day, the day which commemorates women in New Zealand getting the vote.

Source:  Lincoln University

Does irrigation increase the storage of carbon in soil under temperate managed pastures?

Scientists at Plant & Food Research, Lincoln University and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research have conducted a study on Lismore silt loam soil collected from a dryland lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) pasture on the Ashley Dene Research and Development farm in Lincoln, Canterbury.

Their main objective was to measure the effect irrigation has on the distribution of photosynthate carbon (photosynthesis derived-carbon) within the plant-soil system. This study was motivated by the lack of data available on this subject from grazed pastures in temperate climates.

The growing demand for meat, wool and dairy products has resulted in increased use of fertiliser and irrigation to enhance pasture production.

Understanding the responses of soil organic carbon to these pasture management practices is needed to assess their role in contributing to or mitigating further increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

Reporting on the Lincoln research, Plant 7 Food says continuous non-radioactive isotope 13-carbon dioxide (13CO2) pulse labelling of temperate perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and white clover pasture (Trifolium repens L.) was applied to two treatments that simulated irrigated and dryland management.

The researchers observed no differences in accumulation of new photosynthate carbon (13C) in soil between the irrigated and dryland treatments – despite the irrigated treatment having significantly increased above-ground pasture productivity and reduced root biomass.  However, the irrigated treatment had reduced 13C in rhizosphere soil, and increased 13C in the 53–250 µm and < 5 µm soil size fractions compared with the dryland treatment.

These results indicate the importance of the scale at which soil processes occur, and can be used to improve models to predict more accurate soil organic carbon cycling under temperate managed pastures.

This research was funded by the New Zealand Government to support the objectives of the Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.

Journal reference:

Carmona CR, Clough TJ, McNally SR, Beare MH, Tregurtha CS, Hunt JE 2020. Seasonal irrigation affects the partitioning of new photosynthate carbon in soil. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 143.

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Plantain is added as a pasture type in OverseerFM

News arrived in your editor’s in-tray today that New Zealand farmers can now assess the potential impact and investment of plantain, using OverseerFM.

Plantain varieties have been used on New Zealand farms for some time, with positive effects on milk production and in reducing nitrate leaching.

Following the comprehensive research programme Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching (FRNL), plantain has been included in OverseerFM as a pasture type on pastoral and cut and carry blocks. Continue reading

Review panel appointed as Overseer improvements continue

Eight independent experts have been appointed to lead a technical review of the Overseer environmental modelling software, the ministries for the environment and primary industries announced today.

The Overseer work is a major part of efforts to improve decision-making tools for use on-farm.

Panel members were selected based on their depth of knowledge and their collective range of skills and perspectives.

“The eight  independent and internationally-recognised environmental specialists will look ‘under the bonnet’ of Overseer to critically assess its modelling capability and explore potential improvements for its use,” says Ministry for the Environment deputy secretary – water and climate change, Cheryl Barnes.

“The panel’s conclusions and assessments will be critical to New Zealand’s future approach to land management. We must be confident that Overseer is the right tool to drive sound land management decisions and improve freshwater quality.” Continue reading

Obituary: James Campbell Percival discovered the toxin that causes facial eczema

by Neil Percival, M.Agr.Sc (Massey) 

The late Cam Percival, a former Ruakura Animal Research Centre scientist, had three distinct sides to his life’s work:  Cam the scientist at Ruakura and Uruguay, Cam the specialist livestock advisor for the World Bank, and Cam the farmer.

Through all of those roles Cam made significant advances for agriculture in New Zealand and internationally.

After he returned from the Japan Occupation Force, he gained work at the Ruakura Animal Research Centre as one of its first scientists. Continue reading

Sophisticated new “plumbing” for Keeble paddocks

Massey University’s sheep and beef research farm, Keebles, will be a focal point for new nutrient leaching research for sheep and beef farming with the instillation of a sophisticated water and nutrient collection system.

Located just outside of Palmerston North near Massey’s Manawatū campus, Keebles Farm comprises 287.1 hectares. The recently installed system sits underneath the farm’s dedicated research paddocks and each plot has been equipped with an isolated drainage system, which allows all water to be collected and studied.

Deputy head of the School of Agriculture and Environment, Professor Paul Keyon, says Keebles Farm will be the first to employ a collection system of this type for sheep and beef research in New Zealand.

The system allows for the collection of soil water from the various isolated research plots at the same time within the research area. This allows the researchers to examine the effects of differing herbage types and / or stocking rates on leaching at the same time on the same type of soil. They will also be able to do this across the seasons and years.

The project is being led by Dr Lydia Cranston, Associate Professor Dave Horne, James Milner and Dr James Hanly.

“We are continuing to progress our understanding of what goes on beneath the soil in farms, but like any good research project, you need the right tools to measure it accurately. Thankfully, we’ve known for quite some time that to measure nutrient loss and water runoff from paddocks is actually quite simple, but it takes a substantial investment to install,” says Dr Cranston.

A similar system has been used in Massey’s Number Four dairy farm for several years, used most recently to evaluate the effectiveness of plantain to reduce nitrate leaching.

“We are just excited to get out there and use it. There are a lot us ready to test ideas we’ve long theorised. I have no doubt that it will further establish Massey at the forefront of the nutrient loss research in the world under pastoral conditions” says Dr Cranston.

The trials on the farm will start in six months, including a PhD studentship under the supervision of Dr Cranston around nutrient loss under intensive sheep grazing.

Associate Professor Tommy Boland, from the University College Dublin in Ireland, is currently at Massey to learn about what Massey is doing at Keebles because a similar system is being installed there.

The pilot study will compare nitrate leaching when sheep grazing either; a winter brassica forage crop, a plantain based mix, or a ryegrass/white clover mix. Animal performance including ewe liveweight and condition score, lamb weaning weight will also be monitored so they we can gain a good understanding of the effect of each forage type on the overall farm system. The systems will all utilise a high stocking rate reflecting an intensive sheep production system.

“There is clear potential for our two groups to work together on this research,” Dr Boland says.

“Being in two different hemispheres will allow for quicker progress in understanding the potential impacts across the various seasons because for example we will be able to investigate two winters in a 12 month period.”

In the future, the research site may be used to look at the effect of grazing management and other mitigation procedures on nitrate leaching and look at alternative water contaminants.

Source: Massey University

Key step forward for game-changing grass

AgResearch is reporting an important milestone has been reached in its development of a new-generation grass that could prove a game-changer for agriculture.

With funding from the Government and industry partners, including DairyNZ, the genetically modified High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass has been shown in AgResearch’s laboratories:

  • to grow up to 50 per cent faster than conventional ryegrass;
  • to be able to store more energy for better animal growth;
  • to be more resistant to drought; and
  • to produce up to 23 per cent less methane (the largest single contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions) from livestock.

Modelling also predicts less nitrogen excreted into the environment by animals feeding on the ryegrass, and consequently less nitrate leaching and lower emissions of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

Development of the HME ryegrass is now progressing in the mid-west of the United States, where genetically modified organisms can be field tested outside the lab.

After a successful preliminary growing trial last year confirmed the conditions were suitable, AgResearch principal scientist Dr Greg Bryan says the full growing trial began in the United States last month and will continue for five months.

“The preliminary trial was only two months, so it’s not over a timeframe that has any statistical merit, however we did see the increased photosynthesis that we saw with the plants in the greenhouses in New Zealand,” Dr Bryan says.

“In this full trial now underway, we will be measuring the photosynthesis, plant growth and the markers that lead to increased growth rates. While the growth has previously been studied in glasshouses in pots and as plants spaced out in the field, this will be the first opportunity to assess the growth in a pasture-like situation where plants compete with each other.

“The five-month timeframe will allow us to determine if increased growth is consistent across the summer and autumn, and we will simulate grazing by cutting plants back every 3-4 weeks.”

Animal feeding trials are planned to take place in two years.  These will need regulatory approval.

The information gained over the next two years will help AgResearch with its application for the trials.

DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for new systems and competitiveness, Dr Bruce Thorrold, says the HME ryegrass is a science breakthrough and holds great potential for New Zealand farmers.

“HME ryegrass could help us achieve less nitrogen leaching and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improving pasture quality and productivity,” says Dr Thorrold.

“This research could be transformational in future and so it is important we explore all promising avenues which could help dairy farmers respond to the challenges we face.”

While New Zealand has not yet approved the release of genetically modified crops, Dr Bryan says it is important that the science keeps the options open and there is strong scientific evidence on any benefits or risks to be drawn on by policy-makers.

“As the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification found, `it would be unwise to turn our backs on the potential advantages on offer’,” says Dr Bryan.

“We think the advantages here could be very significant – with modelling to date showing the HME ryegrass could boost farm revenues by as much as $900 per hectare, while providing a tool for farmers to manage nitrogen run-off and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Royal Commission also insisted on the need to proceed with caution, minimising and managing risks “which is how we are approaching this work with the ryegrass.”

Source: AgResearch

Nitrogen-reducing plantain recognised with Fieldays Award

A plantain that started life as a common weed has been recognised for its contribution to the future of farming with an Innovation Award from Fieldays.

Ecotain is an environmentally functional plantain that significantly reduces nitrogen leaching on livestock farms.

It was officially launched in September 2017 when proprietary seed company Agricom announced major research findings that showed Ecotain reduces nitrogen leaching from the urine patch, an area containing high concentrations of nitrogen from animals’ urine.

Ecotain won the Launch NZ Innovation Award, which recognises innovative products being launched into New Zealand’s agricultural market. Each year, the Innovation Awards attract dozens of entries across multiple categories, and winners are announced at the Innovation Breakfast.

This year also marks Fieldays’ 50th year of showcasing agriculture and innovation, with the theme being the “Future of Farming”.

Initial research from Agricom, alongside Lincoln and Massey universities and Plant + Food Research, found Ecotain can function in pasture systems to reduce nitrogen leaching in four ways, known as dilute, reduce, delay and restrict. Consuming Ecotain increases the volume of cows’ urine which dilutes the concentration of nitrogen, it reduces the total amount of dietary nitrogen in animals’ urine, it delays the process of turning ammonium into nitrate in the urine patch, and it restricts the accumulation of nitrate in soils growing Ecotain.

Agricom’s lead scientist Dr Glenn Judson says he’s proud to receive the Innovation Award as acknowledgement of a “big year” for his team.

“As with most research projects, Ecotain has been a hugely collaborative effort and we are fortunate to have the support and expertise of some of New Zealand’s best researchers and scientists joining us along the way.”

He says the Innovation Award tops off the positive industry response Ecotain has received so far.

“It’s great to see excitement in the industry that finally we may have a tool to solve nitrate leaching from livestock farms, and receiving the Innovation Award tells us we’re moving in the right direction.

New Zealand National Fieldays CEO Peter Nation says the awards judges were impressed with Ecotain’s scientific backing and the potential it has for the future of farming in New Zealand.

“It was clear a lot of research had gone into developing Ecotain, and given the theme of Fieldays this year – the Future of Farming – it was great to see science being used with the future of farming in mind,” says Mr Nation.

“One of the reasons New Zealand is so well-regarded for its agricultural innovations is because those within the industry aren’t afraid to step outside the box and think about solutions to problems in a different way.

“My congratulations to Ecotain and to all of the Innovation Awards winners this year.”

The Fieldays Innovation Awards highlights innovation across several industry areas, including dairy and drystock farming, horticulture, information and communication technology, cloud and mobile-based software, animal health and genetics, water and waste management, environment and clean-tech, animal and farm management, farm safety and leading research.

Source:  HMC Communications