The 'Farming in a Challenging Environment' workshop, run by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, focused on land management activities at Mt Aspiring Station. The station is part of B+LNZ's high country lake catchments environment project.
The project began last year and involves Rees Valley Station at the head of Lake Wakatipu, and Mt Burke and Mt Aspiring Stations in the Lake Wanaka Catchment.
B+LNZ's South Island environment extension manager, Turi McFarlane, says the workshop attracted a good mix of urban and rural dwellers. This mix generated good discussion about farm environmental management and the practicalities of managing nutrients within set limits in such diverse and high-rainfall farming environments.
Tools for strategies and modelling
With the help of Chris Arbuckle from Aspiring Environmental, the three participating farms have developed detailed Land and Environment Plans (LEPs), which McFarlane says have been a useful tool for fleshing out ideas and strategies to mitigate any environmental risks.
“It’s been a great process to help identify the low-hanging fruit in terms of on-farm management and to help set priorities regarding on-farm activities.”
The project has been using Overseer and Farmax software tools in conjunction with LEPs, to model the impact different management systems would have on both nutrient losses and farm profitability.
Challenges of modelling complex systems
McFarlane says a range of scenarios, mainly centred around variation in the stock management practices at Mt Aspiring, were modelled. This emphasised the challenges that came with using these modelling tools in such complex farm systems.
“Often the modelled scenarios threw up as many questions as answers. However, there were some management changes that did seem to slightly reduce N losses, while demonstrating increased profitability.”
He says the project has highlighted the need for more science regarding nitrogen pathways in the lake Wanaka catchment.
“How accurate are the modelled N losses in these high country farm environments? What happens to the N once it leaves the root zone? What is happening regarding nutrient cycles in the lake?”
The project will hold two more workshops this year. McFarlane says they help build the growing awareness of environmental management amongst others farming in high country and sensitive catchments.