We all know the importance of maintaining high pasture utilisation.

It is New Zealand's main competitive advantage over other countries, whose main competitive advantage is large domestic markets and access to far cheaper supplements than New Zealand.

So it makes sense to farm to our strengths; that is to grow as much pasture in our temperate climate and then get the four-legged machines to harvest it cheaply for us. Studies on what are common among the highest performing farms show that pasture harvested per hectare is closely aligned to profitability per hectare.

This month I want to look at what tools are available to help measure and manage pasture.

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Farm observations

You don't need to buy anything to do this. A study was done in Australia where farmers were asked to walk to the back of their farm each day and move a box from one paddock to another. The result was better managed pasture and higher production.

Why? Purely they observed what was happening on their farm and reacted. This shows that this is better than looking at the grazing list from last round seeing what paddock is next on the list.

Rising plate meter

Developed in New Zealand and used for decades now to give a good estimation on herbage dry matter (DM) based on a ryegrass and clover pasture.

There are different regression formula you can use, but the most commonly used (and recommended now) is x140 +500.

The real change in technology is the availability of software to capture and manage the data.

This allows for instant uploading and retrieval of data, access growth rates and create paddock ranking to identify the best and worst performing paddocks.

Did you know you have a paddock ranking report in MINDA Land & Feed?

C-Dax meter

This was developed in response to make the measuring of pasture easier, faster and more consistent between people. It certainly has delivered in those areas.

When used by trained people who know how to adjust the equations to allow for seasonal changes, they can deliver accurate pasture assessments and provide a good paddock ranking. It comes with a high capital outlay, but when looked after and understood, can deliver the information you want.

Satellite infrared

Two years ago drones were being hailed as the next big advancement in pasture measurement. We are now moving into a time where pasture assessments are available from satellites.

Twenty years ago this was looked at, but cloud cover and lack of satellites flying over meant this was shelved. Since gaining access to daily satellite images, LIC have announced a limited release of a satellite measuring option in December called SPACE — Satellite Pasture and Cover Evaluation.

When a clear image is taken, it is analysed and a detailed pasture report will be sent the next day.

The report includes an image of your farm showing pasture cover variation by colour, a detailed feed wedge and estimated kg DM/ha for each paddock.

The report gets emailed to you and if you use MINDA Land & Feed it gets uploaded directly. How easy will it be to turn on your laptop or phone and see a new pasture assessment there waiting for you?

SPACE is currently available in areas in Canterbury and when it's released to new areas, farmers have the option to trial the product for a fixed 6 week period before paying for the service.

Use the Information

Don't just collect the information — use it! Take the time to think and plan how to best use the feed wedge you have in front of you. What is it telling you?

There are plenty of other feed allocation apps out there that crunch all the numbers to get to the information you need.

It is far better to use the data to make feed management adjustments in a timely manner that is proactive and cheaper rather than reactive and more expensive.

There is often a disconnect between the person making the main feeding decisions and other staff that are viewing the results.

It is vital that all feeding decision results are known and fed back to the main feed-planner to adjust as required to stay within the correct residual ranges.

Think about what ways this is best done on your farm.

Again there are ways of sharing data like in MINDA Land & Feed, or other apps to make this quick and easy.