Network of study sites unearthing valuable information for hill country farmers

// Research

A network of study sites on hill country farms around New Zealand is now providing a wealth of information and research findings to help guide farmers around pasture forage decisions.

image of Mount Grand

The 18 study sites, ranging from Lake Hawea in Central Otago to Waiakaia near Gisborne, were established through the Hill Country Futures Partnership Programme.

The $8.1m programme is co-funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, PGG Wrightson Seeds and Seed Force New Zealand. It is focused on future proofing the profitability, sustainability and wellbeing of New Zealand’s hill country farmers, their farm systems, the environment and rural communities.

It incorporates traditional science research, farmer knowledge, social research and citizen science and has a strong emphasis on forages and providing decision-making tools to help farmers select the best forage option for different land management units.

Dr Suzi Keeling, Sector Science Strategy Manager for B+LNZ, provides scientific oversight for the programme and says a key focus has been resilient forages for the future.

“The programme provided an opportunity to test different forage combinations in a number of research and commercial farms around New Zealand.

“Being able to do this in a range of different locations has ensured we have accommodated what farmers are really interested in, while also answering important science questions.”

The 18 locations include 12 forage trial sites evaluating different combinations of forages. There are six sites capturing soil temperature and moisture data (some overlap with forage trial sites) and three focused on assessing native plants as potential forage.

“Through the forage trials, we are looking at how we support farmers to have resilient forages into the future.

“It is capturing real data on farms to make it tangible for farmers to see how forages perform in different locations. We are also building a large dataset to develop tools that farmers can use to help them select which forages are most ideal for their situation.”

A further outcome of the programme has been the AgYields national forage database, a central repository for all pasture and crop yield data collected in New Zealand to help farmers and farm consultants with decision-making around pasture planning. Planned videos will include showing how farmers can set up their own monitoring on farm and then add their data to AgYields.

The soil temperature and moisture micro-scale indicator projects recognise that hill country farms are diverse landscapes. They are designed to enable farmers to use farm scale mapping to assess which forage mixes are likely to do well in specific areas of their farm.

Research around native shrubs looks at the potential of natives for sheep fodder, in terms of palatability, digestibility and protein characteristics. The focus is on improving animal productivity, animal welfare, biodiversity and soil health while mitigating soil erosion and climate change

“An important aspect of the programme is ensuring our investment is informed by good information,” says Suzi.

“That means farmers know what forages suit what soil types and environments, when to sow forages and what they need to be thinking about in terms of sowing rates and fertiliser applications.

“It means that when they are planning to establish pasture to feed their animals, they have the best information available to do that as efficiently as possible. It removes the risk of ‘taking a stab in the dark’.

“If you are producing forage of better quality and yield that integrates well into your farm system, it allows you to make smart decisions around pasture management and hopefully get a longer lifetime out of your forages. That means less frequent need for forage renewal of pasture, which also has good benefits for soil health.”

Findings from the trials have been made available as factsheets through the Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Knowledge Hub. Plans are also underway to create a series of ‘how to’ videos providing guidance on pasture management.

There have been many positive outputs from the research, says Suzi.

“Many of the outputs are also now in scientific literature, so they have been through a peer review process. That gives us real confidence around the level of rigour associated with the work and that the information in the B+LNZ factsheets is robust and useful for farmers.”

The sites include:

  • Poukawa Research Farm, near Hastings
  • Tourere, central Hawke’s Bay
  • Te Awa Awa, Wairarapa
  • Takaroa, near Carterton
  • Stockgrove, North Canterbury
  • Early Valley, Port Hills, Canterbury
  • Willesden Farm, Banks Peninsula
  • Pemberley, Aylesbury, near Christchurch
  • Inverary, mid-Canterbury
  • Mt Grand, Lake Hawea
  • Wairakaia, Gisborne
  • Ashley Dene and Ladbrooks, Lincoln University
  • Massey University’s Tuapaka Farm, near Palmerston North
  • Mahia
  • Oruamatua, Bay of Plenty
  • Paparata, Taumarunui.

For more information on the sites, please visit the Hill Country Futures website