Tuesday, 01 September 2020 10:28

Know your farm’s green footprint

Written by  Staff Reporters
Jolene and Hadleigh Germann with children Harry and Lucy. Jolene and Hadleigh Germann with children Harry and Lucy.

It's important to know your financials and KPIs but it is just as important to know your environmental footprint and what is driving it, says dairy farmer Jolene Germann.

Jolene and husband Hadleigh milk 550 dairy cows on 200ha at Aparima, between Nightcaps and Otautau in Southland. They are in their sixth season on their current farm and previously their fertiliser rep had run their Overseer analysis for them. When OverseerFM was introduced, they decided to start owning the process themselves. 

The online software, designed specifically for farmers and their advisors, analyses the flow of nutrients through a farm, based on the management practices applied. This produces annual budgets for seven key farm nutrients, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reports. 

Jolene was first introduced to an earlier form of Overseer during two years working as a fertiliser rep for Ravensdown some years ago. Today, she also works part time as a farm management consultant for Agribusiness Consultants but as two of her colleagues are very experienced using Overseer, she doesn’t have much professional involvement with it.

“So, when we decided to start using OverseerFM directly ourselves, we got one of my consultant colleagues to do a proper analysis and provide the base model for us. I’d recommend to any farmer planning to use OverseerFM to start by doing that,” she says.

“Once that is done, it’s pretty straightforward to use. OverseerFM is much more user-friendly that previous models and it is very simple to start playing around. Nothing can go wrong. You can change things but you still have the original base model and if you are struggling with anything, you can get the consultant to check it, because they have access to the account.”

Jolene and Hadleigh have a long standing interest in sustainability. They started the Mid-Aparima catchment group four years ago and have been involved in making presentations on the group’s behalf as part of the Environment Southland Water and Land Plan development process. Hadleigh is also chairman of the dairy section for Southland Federated Farmers.

“Previously, our fertiliser rep would run the Overseer programme for us and we would send the data to Fonterra and get a summary back,” says Jolene. 

“But when OverseerFM came out, we saw it as a new tool we could use directly. Now, rather than sending the data to Fonterra and just getting a summary, we can look at our whole analysis ourselves and check every piece of data, like grazing blocks, soil type, animals and crops.

“A real advantage of OverseerFM is that the farmer ‘owns’ the account and can add people, like your farm consultant or fertiliser rep.”

Jolene and Hadleigh also use OverseerFM to help plan changes on farm and comply with Appendix N in Environment Southland’s Water and Land Plan, which requires a nutrient budget completed by a certified individual. 

“It is really easy to run scenarios through OverseerFM, that is a key benefit,” says Jolene. “Farmers here have nutrient budgets so it is good to know now what your current net losses are and then you can model things before nutrient limits are introduced in Southland.

“A big driver for us, and many Southland farmers, is winter crops – they have a big impact on nutrient loss. From a net point of view, a lot of nutrients are lost through our winter crop. You can use OverseerFM to model your farm with different amounts of winter crops or with wintering animals off and see what drives nutrient loss.”

Jolene says it is important not to fixate on variations.

“People get hung up on it not being 100 per cent accurate, but Overseer is a model and you are modelling a complex living system, so there will be variations. If you run scenarios then the variation is cancelled out.”

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Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

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To ensure full support in the migration to Lely Horizon, existing Lely T4C customers will be personally informed by their Lely Center before the end of 2020.

The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

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