Regrassing lifts family's return
Patoka farmers Hugh and Deidre Thomsen understand the value of pasture renewal.
The Hawke's Bay couple, who with sons Greg and Hamish run a 100 per cent dairy support operation, began a regrassing programme eight years ago when they realised the old pastures weren't cutting it when it came to meeting heifer grazing targets.
New grasses are now a vital cog in the dairy support system on the farm, made up of three blocks, enabling them to meet weight gain targets and lift carrying capacity.
The Thomsens' implementation of a regrassing programme, and the aim of renewing 40ha of pasture annually, features in a new campaign launched by the Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust in Wellington last night by Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy.
It encourages farmers to renew 10 per cent of pasture annually, although some programmes may vary from as little as 1-2 per cent to 40 per cent.
Hugh says the young grasses help them to achieve the required weight gains. "Otherwise we are really pushing to hit those targets with the carrying capacity we have."
Hamish says they are able to pay off the investment within two years and get a better return off that grass with a shorter grazing rotation time for the heifers.
He calculates that if they hadn't undertaken the re-grassing they would only be carrying 350 heifers as opposed to the 700 they comfortably carry now on the home block.
"If we didn't regrass on the home block we would only be grossing $800/ha as opposed to $1600/ha. The initial cost is around $760 per hectare to put new grass in," he says.
"You don't put them [heifers] on there hoping they are going to do, you put them on there knowing they are going to do," Hugh says.
"It [regrassing] is expensive to do, but it costs you more in the long term if you don't do it."
A 2009 BERL report showed sheep and beef farmers renewed only 2-3 per cent and dairy farmers 6-7 per cent annually. That report contained analysis based on getting sheep and beef farmers up to 8 per cent and dairy farmers to 12 per cent, so the trust pitched its national aspirational goal at 10 per cent.
Trust chairman and Agriseeds chief executive Murray Willocks says the trust's goal is to stimulate farmers to consider their pasture renewal programme and its influence on farm performance.
As the pressure goes on farm incomes, the focus has very much come back to pasture production, Mr Willocks says.
"Current pressures on farm incomes highlight the need to review the structure of farming operations, therefore it is timely to be looking at the role of pastures and whether the opportunity they offer is being maximised.
"The cost of regrassing runs around 1 per cent of operating costs.
"Prudent farmers look at their budgets for opportunities to trim costs. Cutting regrassing costs will have a minor effect on reducing costs and a major effect on productivity and farm income."