Monday, 26 March 2012

New Zealand...A Place Where Talent Wants To Live & Proudly Farm

“New Zealand…A Place Where Talent Wants To Live” this was the NZ strategic vision that Sir Paul Callaghan(New Zealander of the year 2011 & ex Massey University Scientist) spoke so passionately about before his death last week.  Sir Paul Callaghan was a world class scientist, leader & a passionate advocate for a better more prosperous New Zealand. He was a great orator & he had a vision of a “knowledge driven economy” based on excellence & research & development. He was critical of NZ R & D spending being so low at 0.5% of GDP. He was critical of NZ continuing to exploit our natural resources & argued that we need to change the way we live in NZ. 
 In the YouTube video clip (which everyone should watch & listen to) he suggests that: - “The Best Leaders (are the ones that)….the people do not notice their existence, when the best leader’s work is done the people say “We did it ourselves”.

I was privileged to sit beside another visionary NZ dairy leader, Gordon Stephenson recently to hear & understand how the NZ Farm Environment Awards begun & what Gordon envisaged when the original concept was created back in 1993. Gordon was instrumental & a key instigator in the establishment of the QE11 National Trust Act 1977.  “ At a time when environmental sustainability has become an increasingly important factor in consumer decisions, the QEII model demonstrates that production and protection can co-exist very comfortably on New Zealand farms. Gordon wanted “NZ farmers doing it (protecting the environmental “special places” on their farms) because they want to, not because they have to, or because they are paid for it or be forced by regulation to do it”.
He has a 100 year rule..”When you are doing something, consider what would happen if I was doing it for 100 years”. The best farms Gordon believes involve & consider the community in which they live. “Sustainability is a thought process as much as how you do it”.

By encouraging the best farmers to be judged (Balance Farm Environment Awards), there is mutual learning. “These leading “best by example” farmers are so proud & they are willing to talk about it, so germinating & encouraging ideas that are just below the surface, (other farmers keen to learn)” Gordon told me. So from small seeds & the energetic visions of one man we have today a network of regions & farmers throughout NZ competing & learning from world best practice. 
 I sat transfixed in Gordon & Celia Stephenson’s house looking out on an amazing farm vista of native NZ trees & frequent views of NZ native birds flying around the house. This dream like environment didn’t just happen of course! Farmers everywhere would love to live on farms that epitomise their environmental caring efforts. Leaders live the dream as well as walking the talk. It is highly fitting that Gordon Stephenson’s name appears on the supreme Farm Environment Award trophy.  Throughout NZ the regional winners are being announced & field days organised for the Balance Farm Environment Awards. 
 How fitting of my visit to this truely beautiful Putaruru farm, that as I drove out the gate I am able to witness Gordon encouraging, coaching & mentoring his grandson to appreciate & care for a better environment.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Are You Using Farm Business Management "Apps" on Your Farm?

The Centre of Excellence in Farm Business Management is a joint virtual centre of the Farm Management Departments at both Massey & Lincoln Universities in New Zealand. The Centre is conducting a number of research projects in Farm Business Management. One of those projects is investigating what Apps (Applications) are available for IPhones/IPads & Android mobile phones. Apps or “Applications” are clever or smart little computer programs that run on these new Smart Mobile Phones. Smart Phones are really hand held computers. Not only can you make the usual phone calls & text messages but you can receive emails, connect to social media & use these Apps to calculate or replace many of the tools you would otherwise have to carry separately or go back to your computer in your house or farm office. It will amaze you what can now be done on a Smart Phone!

You might question “why use your phone to do these tasks?” and I think there are two main answers to that question. Most farmers now carry their mobile phones everywhere they go, so the phone is always in your pocket. Secondly, the technology is becoming incredibly sophisticated.

Hamish Hammond a young recent Massey University Agricultural graduate is conducting the Apps research for the Centre of Excellence in Farm Business Management. Hamish is a very promising young NZ athlete,(World Champion 20-24 age group Triathlete at Beijing 2011) so between training runs he is hard at work on his Iphone searching for Apps that might be useful for dairy farmers. 

Hamish has linked up with Nico Lyons & Rene Kolbach at University of Sydney's Camden Campus who are conducting a very similar search for Farm based Apps. They presented a very lively session (sponsored by the Gardiner Foundation, Dairy Australia) at the recent Australian Dairy Conference. 
At a recent dairy farm Discussion Group I attended about a third of the group already had either an iphone(Apple product) or an Android(Google system) phone.  The majority of the rest of the group expected to upgrade to a smart phone within 12 months. If this is the pattern across all Discussion Groups & farmers in general it will mean that the vast majority of farmers could potentially be using Smart Phones within a 1-2 year horizon.
Hamish has been researching ipad/iphone and android applications that could be relevant for dairy farmers (in particular New Zealand farmers). He has compiled a list below of some of the Ipad/Iphone applications that he has found. Most are free but some are not. Feedback about the applications would be beneficial for his research and therefore I encourage everyone to download these, have a go. Please post your comments at the bottom of this blog. Please search the name of the app on your device app store. Most of these are available on both android and ipad devices.
F-Track Live
Pro Dairy event
Pro Cattle Breeding
TankMix Calculator
Crystalyx: CowBCS
Geo Measure
Map Measure
Coopers Animal Health
MetService Weather
Agricultural Glossary
Fertility improvement profit calculator
Ranch Calculator
Farm Manager
Farm Contractor
IFarmer: Inventory
Pocket Wedge
The Smart phone technology is changing daily, so too are the Apps that are being written & released. Most are available for both Apple & Google systems & most are free. If you have been using an App that’s not on Hamish’s list perhaps you would leave a comment (see below). Thank you that would be very helpful for us & ultimately all dairy farmers. Try the above list & give us your feedback.
Soon the Centre of Excellence in Farm Business Management will have an interactive website to be known as "OneFarm"

Monday, 12 March 2012

If You Don’t Measure You Can’t Control...Basic Pasture Management!

What’s going on? Have New Zealand dairy farmers taken their eye off the ball…..or even worse “lost the plot”? What has happened to their famous pasture grazing skills?
 Throughout the low cost pasture dairying world NZ farmers have a reputation of being expert grazing managers & very efficient users of low cost pasture. Is this still true? From my observations I’d say it’s no longer the case that NZ farmers are the best in the world.
In fact I’m appalled at what I’m seeing on most dairy farms. Most NZ dairy farm pastures I’ve seen are a total mess with little evidence of good pasture husbandry practices or care.
There is blatant evidence that few NZ dairy farmers do regular weekly measurements.
Therefore it follows that few are using the pasture management tools. The “Pasture Wedge Graph Concept” was developed back at Matamata in 1976 with NZ Dairy Board Discussion Groups & the clever mathematics worked out at Lincoln University Dairy Farm decades later. Drs C. P. McMeekan (From Grass to Milk), John Hutton, Arnold Bryant & Des Clayton from Ruakura would be equally shocked to see the state of today’s pasture management skills, as would Dr Ray Brougham (ex Director of Grasslands) & Dr Colin Holmes (ex Massey University). These gentlemen were the “Research Pioneers” who built NZ’s reputation as global best practice in dairying pasture management. People like Mac McKenzie & Don Johnson demanded of the Consulting Officer team that the extension focus of every Discussion Group was efficient pasture utilization, low costs & farm profit.

I think “Global Best Practice Dairy farm Pasture Management” now belongs to the low input pasture based dairy farmers in the UK & Ireland. The world’s best pastures are to be found either in the UK or France NOT New Zealand. In more difficult climates the dairy farmers in Victoria Australia are outstanding.
So why are the Discussion Group farmers in the UK & Ireland now world leaders in pasture management? Firstly the vast majority measure pasture every week & the data is recorded in Pasture Wedge Graph programs, many of which now are “internet cloud” based, so groups can share the information & gain extra efficiencies. Group members wouldn’t dare attend group days without pasture measurement data including growth rates, daily demand & of course their pasture wedge graphs. Farmers take enormous pride in their pastures & the care of those ryegrass/white clover pastures. Many organic dairy farmers lead the way in understanding why soils & soil organic matter in particular is so important to good pasture management. Many farms are under environmental restrictions (read enforced lower stocking rates) yet still produce outstanding pasture. Most would fully understand Danny Donaghy’s “Three Leaf System” of Ryegrass grazing & how this changes throughout the year. Many would monitor soil temperatures during the year to better understand leaf appearance rates & how it is changing. Danny has recently arrived at Massey University & is now Professor of Dairy Science.
The work of the NZ Dairy Consultants working in Ireland & the UK has been critical to those farmers now being global leaders in grazing & pasture management. People like Alastair & Sharon Rayne, Leonie Guiney (nee Foster), Lynaire Ryan, John Simmonds, Mark Blackwell, Carol Doak (nee Gibson), Paul Bird & more recently Adrian van Bysterveldt have had a massive impact.
Crucial to their success has been a strong network of Discussion Groups & vigorous "Championing of low input farming" leadership & focus on grazing management. 
 In Ireland there has been a real effort by researchers, extension staff & consultants to get as many farmers measuring & monitoring pastures weekly. This is supported now by internet cloud providers like “AgriNet”  which has excellent pasture wedge graph capability. Strong consultancy groups like the Grazing Musketeers are pushing on with Discussion Groups & honing the pasture management skills in both Ireland & the UK.  

What I don’t understand is what has happened in NZ. The past research at No. 2 Dairy Ruakura & the Lincoln University Dairy Farm  & past Consulting Officer efforts  have focussed on good pasture management & high utilization. I’m told that now fewer than 20% of dairy farmers regularly measure & monitor (pasture wedge graph) pastures. Why? Why don’t NZ farmers passionately care for their pastures? Where’s the pride in having spectacular pastures gone?

Let’s be clear about my criticism…..”If you don’t measure you can’t control” eyeballing pastures simply isn’t good enough. You need to know growth rates & daily demand. You need to know what’s going to happen next week & 2 weeks out. You need to know the current ryegrass leaf emergence rate by looking into pasture regularly to check the tillers. You should in my view be monitoring soil temperature regularly on your farm.
 Pasture measuring be it with a Plate Meter or CDax  should be done in my view by a senior Manager or the Farm Owner....the Pasture Wedge Graph is a communication tool for all Farm Staff or Consultants. Walking the farm has huge benefits if done weekly. To be honest I haven’t seen much evidence of any of these “Global Best Practices” in NZ lately. I’m sure there are some people & some advisers who are doing this every week & these comments are obviously not aimed at you.
 I suppose it’s nothing to do with the saying “Production is Vanity. Profitability is Sanity”………… surely not! Yeah Right!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

We All Cast Our Shadow on The Environment..NZ Landcare Trust Conference

  “We are born into the shadow of our parents & eventually we create our own shadow”. Powerful story telling from George Matthews (a NZ Landcare Trustee) opened the NZ Landcare Trust Conference in Hamilton NZ.
Although his Maori proverb has to do with life itself….we all do cast our shadow on the environment in which we live & farm. Our Earth’s environment is in trouble. It was Albert Einstein who said that …” Insanity: was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
 We need to see farmers as the solution rather than the problem. A cultural change of attitude is now necessary to stop accelerating deterioration in water quality of our rivers in New Zealand. The blaming game needs to stop as its creating rifts between city & country. We need to view improving the environment as a joint responsibility.
We need to work together as communities both city & country/European & Iwi (Maori) together side by side.

Last week at the NZ Landcare Trust conference they appointed 6 “Landcare Ambassadors”. Their task is to help move communities both rural & urban to change to a better environment with better water quality & more biodiversity where we live & farm.  These new Ambassadors have all excelled in their own rural communities in leading by example, to show that if the whole community can work together improvements are possible & the environment will respond to the care & attention. These outstanding Landcare Trust leaders have made big changes on their own farms but equally they have led their local communities to all contribute & “come onboard”. The worldwide Landcare movement is about rural & urban communities working together in small groups such as landowners in the same water/river catchment. Landcare is a wonderful model for improving & creating a sustainable environment. The challenge is to change farmer’s mind-set from one of “Stoic Independents” to a shared community responsibility & engaging with the non-farming sector. “Collaboration not Conflict”!
Landcare provides an opportunity for those who care & want to contribute to a better environment. I'd like to see many more farmers attend the NZ Landcare Trust Conference.
The majority of farmers in Australia belong to a local Landcare group & I’d like to see this happen in New Zealand & in fact in every country throughout the world. It’s about getting people to act, not because they have to but because they really care.
The six NZ Landcare Trust Ambassadors are: - Helen Moodie (a DairyNZ Consulting Officer) & her partner Todd Hamilton- Whangarei Heads, Andrew Hayes (Waikato Dairy farmer), Sue Brown (Aorere Dairy farmer), Fred Lichtwark Whaingaroa Harbourcare Raglan, Doug Avery Malborough, & Geoff Crutchley from the Upper Taieri River.
 It’s great that this list includes two dairy farmers, one DairyNZ Consulting Officer & the Whaingaroa Harbourcare project at Raglan involves a lot of local dairy farmers. Those who are quick to criticise dairy farmers should take note that dairy farmers are also leading the way to work with their communities in innovative ways to improve the quality of water in lakes, rivers & harbours.  This is a good news story for NZ dairy farmers!
However NZ dairy farmers can’t rest on the laurels of the NZ Landcare Trust Dairying Ambassadors.
All NZ dairy farmers need to smartly fence off all waterways & it is important that these are planted with appropriate trees. This is to prevent it becoming a weed problem, to protect the stream banks & finally to help keep the water temperature cool. This is only the start of a long journey to improve the environment.
NZ dairy farmers need to accept that intensification & increased dairy cow numbers in many parts of NZ is having a detrimental impact on the environment through the Nitrogen loading.
One positive step all dairy farmers can take is to organise a whole farm plan which identifies the different soils & combine this with land capability maps. This will identify which areas of the farm you may need to change the land use e.g. plant trees on some steep slopes or fence off wetlands. These steps are not a backward step but rather will enhance the aesthetic appearance, protect & increase the long term land values of the farm.
At the NZ Landcare Trust Conference the Northland Totara Working Group presented a compelling argument for dairy farmers using Totara on many of their steeper poor pasture areas on farms throughout NZ as Totara is an incredibly versatile species. Information on how to use Totara, which trees to plant on stream banks & how to create wetlands can all be gathered from your local Landcare Trust Officer.  
Since I worked in Australia when the Australian Landcare movement  started back in the 1980s I have been a huge fan & advocate for all farmers to join or form a local Landcare group. Today there are many urban groups as well & this is fantastic!
So do you belong to a local Landcare group? If not you need to as your farm will benefit & you will be helping to change the environment for the benefit of everyone especially your grandchildren!