NZ Farmer - 'Engage other farmers' on new nutrient requirements

A new environmental plantain forage variety shown to reduce nitrogen leaching from the urine patch, will not only assist dairy, but also sheep and beef farmers to meet tightening nitrogen-loss targets, says Irrigation New Zealand chairwoman Nicky Hyslop.

"We need to keep on the button about adopting new technology when we can," she told a Beef + Lamb NZ field day.

"We have some plantain on our farm, but clearly it is not enough," said Hyslop, a sheep and beef farmer and former farm consultant. "The regulatory environment is changing as we speak."  

Some farmers will be impacted by Plan Change 5 to the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan, which is likely to be operative in 2018-19.

For sheep and beef farmers, the changes may require them to apply for a resource consent for winter grazing of cattle on greenfeed crops.

In the proposed plan change, resource consents were required for farms with more than 50ha of irrigation, or 20ha of winter grazing. Farms are also required to comply with good management practice standards and most will need to have a farm environment plan.

After submissions by several farming and irrigation organisations, the permitted limit for winter grazing has been increased.

"The original blanket 20ha would have required an avalanche of consents from sheep and beef farmers," said Hyslop.

Resource consents will no longer be required if the area of the property used for winter grazing is 10ha or less for any property less than 100ha. On properties between 100ha and 1000ha, up to 10 per cent can be winter grazed on crop, without triggering a consent.   For properties of more than 1000ha, up to 100ha of winter grazing is permitted.

"The question is, do you go for a consent now, or do you wait for further clarification of regulatory changes?

"A farm environment plan gets you an important part along the way. It's not just about compliance, it is a good tool. GST was considered an additional workload when it was introduced, but now it is a good way of keeping finances up-to-date. Health and safety regulations have also been implemented and a farm environment plan is the next step.    

"Get out there and engage with your neighbours and make the new nutrient requirements a point of conversation. If we don't bring most farmers with us, then we will have regulations imposed on us. We must grab those farmers that are reluctant and take them with us," said Hyslop.

Plan Change 5 rules (including those that specify how much of a property may be used for winter grazing and irrigation) do not apply in the Selwyn Waihora, Hinds (Ashburton district), South Coastal Canterbury and Hurunui Waiau (except Waipara) catchments. 

Agricom lead scientist Glenn Judson said sheep and beef farmers were  the predominant users of plantain, with earlier varieties used by farmers for many years. New-release Ecotain had the environmental advantage of reducing nitrogen leaching from the urine patch.

Ecotain was not yet recognised by the nutrient budget computer model Overseer, so farmers using the forage herb would not receive a reduction in their nitrate-loss figure. "It will take two years to reprogramme Overseer for farmers using Ecotain. Early adopters will use Ecotain anyway."

Ecotain reduces nitrogen leaching from a urine patch by increasing the volume of cow's urine which dilutes the concentration of nitrogen; reducing the total amount of nitrogen in the animal's urine,  delaying the process of turning ammonium into nitrate in the urine patch, and restricting the accumulation of nitrates in the Ecotain-growing soil.

Ecotain can be used in pasture in a number of ways, as a special purpose crop with clover, or in a grass/clover/Ecotain mixed pasture system. It can be oversown into existing pasture.