Methven dairy farmer Andrew Barlass is turning his attention back to pasture – focusing on soil health, alternative forages and home-grown feed to improve farm profitability.
Germinal New Zealand's award-winning high sugar grasses and clovers have been part of the farm's permanent pasture mix for more than 10 years, because they withstand the region's cool and unpredictable climate.
"At the end of the day we are in the business of growing grass first and producing milk second," says Andrew, who runs two dairy operations spread over 800 hectares and milking 1500 cows.
"The quality and quantity of milk is only as good as the forage we're providing our stock."
Barlass' property is in the Canterbury foothills. His grandfather bought the farm in the 1940s and it has stayed in the family – run by his father David since 1975 and subsequently Andrew.
The dryland property is self-contained, which is unusual for Canterbury dairying. All stock is raised and wintered on-farm during winter and no supplement is imported.
"We take a more traditional approach and look to be self-sufficient," says Andrew. "Winter feed is rotated through the farm and used as a tool to enable re-grassing as pastures run out. We also use catch crops and are increasing the diversity of species in our new pastures.
"Being unirrigated, the operation is subject to climate variability. To manage this, silage is made from surplus grass, usually in spring, occasionally in autumn, and used to fill feed deficits.
"The self-contained approach gives us a good level of oversight and control, as we don't have to rely on supplementary feed sources and all young stock is close at hand. We have a full picture of the entire operation at all times, helping us understand our environmental footprint and proactively manage issues."
Agricultural sustainability is an ongoing challenge for farmers seeking to comply with government-imposed nitrogen caps and other water quality controls. Pasture-based mitigation techniques and soil protection are important in the current environment, says Barlass.
"We are increasingly aware of soil health and microbiology. We're taking a more holistic approach to fertiliser management – using more potassium and trace elements, and lifting the pH of soils to make more nutrients available to the plant."
Innovative, cost-effective forages are an important part of Barlass' strategy to lift animal performance while addressing environmental issues.
Germinal's high sugar grasses – AberGain, AberGreen and AberMagic – are a key component of Barlass' self-contained feeding programme. Exclusive to Germinal, these high sugar grasses are bred to produce a higher level of water-soluble carbohydrates and are up to 5.5 per cent higher in digestibility than standard perennial ryegrass. Animals have a higher voluntary intake with high digestibility, and are able to absorb more energy from the feed. The high sugar feed, when provided in synchrony with the plant protein, allows for a more efficient microbe digestion process in the animal's rumen, meaning more protein is converted to milk and meat and less is excreted into the environment.
"We want to maximise the amount of metabolisable energy produced per hectare, and the cows milk better off the high sugar grass," says Barlass. "Anecdotally, I would also say that the cattle prefer the high sugar grass over other varieties, and we consistently achieve an even residual post-grazing."
Germinal, which originated in Ireland and the United Kingdom, has supplied the New Zealand market with innovative clovers and grasses for more than 15 years. Product performance is built on the integrity of tested research and development by Germinal's research partner, the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Wales.
"This exclusive collaboration allows us to draw on world-leading science and apply it to New Zealand's unique conditions," says Germinal New Zealand General Manager Sarah Gard.
"We have established a plant breeding programme in Canterbury, as we recognise the importance of breeding for New Zealand, in New Zealand. This research is supported by on-farm trials throughout the country – ensuring our products perform under real-life conditions for a range of farming systems."
Gard says Germinal's partnership with IBERS enables the company to contribute to the long-term sustainability and profitability of New Zealand's farming industry, by producing top performing pasture varieties with unique characteristics.
For more information, visit germinal.co.nz
•Run by Andrew Barlass in partnership with parents
•800ha (1,977 acres)
•Majority of the farm planted in Germinal New Zealand's high sugar grasses and clovers
•1,500 cows spring calving in August and September
•4,730 litres a cow a year at 5.34% fat and 4.11% protein
•445kg milk solids per cow per year
•Dryland farm, all stock reared and out-wintered on farm
•No supplements imported.