The three main themes for the field day were:
- high performance farming on Northland hills
- assessing different land use options with a focus on the opportunity for integrating farm forestry with livestock production
- getting the best return from fertiliser use.
While all three themes were targeted at farming for optimum profit on Northland hill country, the second theme was particularly relevant in view of the government’s billion tree planting programme, outlined by Julie Collins, MPI’s Acting Head of Forestry. There was plenty of interest from the farmers wanting to find out how they could incorporate the scheme into their farming practice, preferably without too much disruption.
Julie explained there were several options, including planting varieties like Manuka, wattle, gum and natives for honey production, soil protection, riparian and shelter planting. All these would qualify for carbon credits and this was important to help New Zealand transition to sustainable and resilient land use.
James Parsons gave a presentation on the Ashgrove farm business owned with his wife Janine in partnership with his brother and sister-in-law, governed by a board of directors with an independent chairman. Sheep are the main-stay of the business and at its heart is the Coopworth stud flock. Complementing the sheep are R2 bulls on easy to medium hill country and R2 steers which have replaced the breeding cow herd on steeper hill country. Since the farm’s acquisition in 2014, performance and profitability have improved to the point where Ashgrove sits in the top category of Northern North Island hard hill country farms. A weaning percentage of 162% and an economic farm surplus of $468 per hectare compare extremely well with B+LNZ Economic Service’s benchmark figures.
The third theme, Spread Smart variable fertiliser application, was demonstrated by an aerial top- dressing plane and detailed by Ballance Agri-Nutrients. Fertiliser is deposited according to a ground spreading prescription map, formulated from grid patterned soil tests across the farm. Ballance was able to prove a cost reduction of 60%, equivalent to savings of $33,000 in one year, compared with the traditional method of uniform spreading.