Thursday, 22 October 2020 09:40

Sustainable approach helps boosts productivity

Written by  Staff Reporters
Taramoa farm managers Billie and Dan Herries are proof that farming sustainably doesn’t have to come at an economic cost. Photo courtesy NZ Farm Environment Trust. Taramoa farm managers Billie and Dan Herries are proof that farming sustainably doesn’t have to come at an economic cost. Photo courtesy NZ Farm Environment Trust.

An East Coast farm is enjoying a dramatic increase in productivity, despite retiring 10% of the land – proving that farming sustainably doesn’t have to come at an economic cost.

Since 2015 when they started managing Puketitiri sheep and beef farm Taramoa – located midway between Taupo and Hastings – Dan and Billie Herries have continued the previous managers’ devotion to enhancing its biodiversity. 

Their hard work was recognised with a suite of awards in the 2020 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

More than 20,000 native plants have been planted, all waterways have been fenced and a comprehensive predator trapping network now covers the whole property.

“We often think that if we do all this stuff we’ll lose productivity. However, the combination of these things all add up, meaning our financial performance has increased dramatically,” Dan Herries says.

For example, fencing off waterways not only creates a riparian corridor for native species, it also reduces stock losses from drowning. 

And creating robust shelter belts of native plants has the bonus of boosting young animal survival rates.

“It’s pretty daunting at first and we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way – we’ve learnt by doing,” he adds. “But it’s been worth it. It’s amazing now and gives us a great sense of satisfaction. You can’t let it overwhelm you and it’s important to take breaks from it.”

Herries says a good approach is to pick the highest priority area to retire and just do that one. 

“We didn’t do a whole farm plan to start with – we just did it year-by-year. It’s not so daunting now that we’ve broken it down.”

Key drivers for the Herries are Taramoa’s location – between the Kaweka Forest Park and Ball’s Clearing Scenic Reserve – and the fact they have kiwi on their property, along with other rare native species.

The couple felt obligated to create a riparian corridor to connect the two reserves – enabling animals to safely travel back and forth and also creating a crucial part of their trapping network.

“It’s a pretty big motivator to keep trapping when you’re out on the farm with the kids at dusk and you hear the kiwi calls.”

The family traps feral cats, rats and mustelids, and the hard work is paying off. From 80 mustelid traps, just one stoat was caught in the past month.

“Stoats are the biggest threat because they kill a lot of birds, including kiwi chicks, and cause a lot of disturbance. Birds won’t even nest when they’re around.”

Herries says he has learned a lot about farming from podcasts – particularly those created by Beef+Lamb NZ.

“We need our hands when we’re working and don’t want to be stuck too long in the office. With podcasts you can listen to them when feeding out in the tractor and pick up little tips as you go,” he adds. “I’ve been absolutely blown away at the resources available.”

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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.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

Horizon is also able to connect and combine data from non-Lely sources into a complete solution for the farmer removing the need to enter the same data twice, while scrutinising individual data streams in different applications will no longer be necessary. Currently, connections with farming applications such as Dairy Comp, Uniform-Agri, CRV and Herde already enable farmers to synchronise information about calving and inseminations between applications. Lely’s ambition is to connect with more partners over time, to hand the farmer more smart data.

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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