Environmental enhancement is good for business

// B+LNZ

The Miller family from Southland were a New Zealand Farm Assurance-Plus programme pilot farm. They will be hosting a field trip on their property ‘Roslyn Downs’, as part of Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Annual Meeting on March 17. This will be an opportunity for farmers to see what it takes to gain this accreditation, look at the environmental work the family has been carrying out over the past 20 years and how this complements their high-performing livestock operation.

Miller family

As consumers and the wider public continue to demand strong environmental and animal welfare management from red meat producers, the Miller family are well positioned to deliver on all counts.

Brothers Jason and Quentin Miller farm Roslyn Downs, a 620ha rolling country sheep and beef property near Invercargill in conjunction with their wives Jocelyn and Eleanor and Jason’s son Andrew and his wife Rachel.

As a New Zealand Farm Assurance Plus pilot farm, the family has been required to demonstrate excellence in all areas of their business and while Jason admits the programme was very detailed, the environmental work the family has carried out over the past two decades positioned them well to work towards this accreditation.

Jason says they saw the direction of travel 20 years ago and began fencing off the 10km of waterways on their farm, which so far has amounted to 30km of fencing.

Since then, they have created sediment ponds to capture soil and nutrient run-off, carried out extensive native and exotic planting and in conjunction with a neighbour, further developed an existing 3ha wetland. To be able to do this environmental work, they have had to run a profitable sheep and beef business, which in a synchronistic way, has also benefited from this focus on environmental management.

For example, over winter they used to run their ewes on daily breaks. To better protect the soils, they moved to flexible, multi-day break system and have noticed an improvement in ewe performance. Jason believes this is because the longer breaks reduces competition for feed, so the vast majority of ewes are staying within an optimum Body Condition Score band of between 3 and 3.5. This benefits lamb survival, lactation and pre-weaning growth rates.

“We don’t have those tail-end ewes and it has improved soil pugging,” says Jason.

Reduced pugging also means improved pasture production and overall livestock performance.

The farm runs 4000 Coopdale ewes, which are lambing 150-160% to the ram, 1200 hoggets (which are mated), 200 bulls and 200 trading cattle.

Lambs are all finished to 19kgCW, Friesian bulls are finished to 300kgCW while Wagyu cross cattle will be grown to 600kgLW before being finished on a local feedlot.

The Miller family works with a local dairy farmer to source both calves – which they rear – and the milk upon which they are reared.

By identifying different soil types over the farm, the family has been able to match soils with stock classes.

“Some soils are more fragile so we’re not wintering cattle on those and we don’t winter cattle on any slope,” says Jason.

All cattle are gone well before their second winter.

Soil health assessments are carried out annually, a skill Jason learnt after attending a workshop on the subject.

“It’s really simple to do, it’s not rocket science.”

Fencing off all the waterways on the farm necessitated the development of a reticulated water system which benefited stock health through the provision of clean, fresh water throughout the year.

As part of NZFAP-Plus, the quality of the water leaving the property is measured every second month and this is correlated with weather data.

The family is also carrying out regular bird counts as they aim to increase the biodiversity found on the farm.

Jason is the first to admit there is still more to do in enhancing their environment and they have plans to plant many more natives as time and finances allow.

One of the challenges they have in common with farmers throughout many parts of the country is complying with proposed new wintering regulations and reducing their nutrient loss and greenhouse gas emissions.

Their nutrient losses sit at 17kg N/ha and the family would like to reduce this.

“Where we blow out in our winter grazing paddocks,” says Jason.

To overcome this, they have been trialling putting in an oat catch crop in the wake of winter forage crops and so far, have been pleased with the results.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how good it was.”

The oats, which germinate at lower temperatures than other crops, have been made into baleage, but the family is exploring the option of growing oats for a local oat milk enterprise.

The family has used Farm Environment Plans to guide their progress over recent years. Beef + Lamb New Zealand is launching its comprehensive Farm Plan within the next few weeks and the organisation has worked with processors to align its Farm Plan with the NZFAP.  

Levy payers are welcome to attend all or part of the Annual Meeting and Showcase, including the field trip. REGISTRATIONS ARE ESSENTIAL.