Concerns for pasture base

Concerns for pasture base

Pastures have been hit hard by drought and floods in recent seasons – a costly reminder for farmers not to lose focus on their pasture base. 

Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust (PRCT) chairman Murray Willocks said pastures were declining at a faster rate, especially in more northern parts of New Zealand hit by drought.

‘The risk is farmers develop
a system where supplements carry them through, then the payout comes down and they can’t afford it.’

Pasture renewal rates nationwide were still far off the 10% target being advocated by the PRCT.

“Their older pastures are declining very quickly and farmers need to think long-term about the implications.”

High milksolids payouts had made supplements more affordable for dairy farmers, but they needed to focus on their pasture base so they were not caught out.

“The risk is farmers develop a system where supplements carry them through, then the payout comes down and they can’t afford it,” Willocks said.

He said dairy farmers should consider how sensitive their farming systems were to the milksolids payout and supplement costs, and include pasture renewal in their budget.

Primarily pasture-based farming was the most profitable way to farm, but not the most convenient, requiring more long-term planning and management.

Increased stocking rates and productivity created added pressure on pastures and persistence problems in perennial ryegrass were more often the result of pasture management rather than plant breeding.

The PRCT commissioned reports analysing the value of pasture to the NZ economy in 2007 and 2011.

The 2011 report, by Wellington firm Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL), found little increase in the rate of pasture renewal.

In sheep and beef, the pasture renewal rate was just over 2% and had hardly changed between 2007 and 2011. Dairy rose slightly from 6.11% to 6.63%.

BERL estimated that achieving dairy pasture renewal rates of 12% would increase the farmgate value of NZ dairy products by $43 million-$165m. Lifting sheep and beef pasture renewal to 8% would boost their value by $35m-$106m.

Willocks said the country was losing the opportunity to lift profits by not renewing enough pasture.

Despite that, some farmers were renewing one-third of their pastures annually, while others reported they needed to renew at least 20% of their pastures to keep up.

“That illustrates there is a good return on investment.”

Willocks said many farmers felt they could not farm with 10% of their land out of grazing during pasture renewal.

“It can be done, you’ve just got to figure out how to do it on your farm.”

The more farmers understood pasture production, the easier it was to calculate the return on investment of new pasture. Willocks said farmers who measured pasture production renewed more pasture than those who did not.

Pasture renewal data, collected as part of the agricultural census for the first time, was released last year. According to census data, pasture renewal in the year to June 2012 covered 379,237ha or 4.7% of the country’s eight million for pasture base