Farmer research highlights hill country risks and opportunities

Farmers from Canterbury and Manawatu have shared their stories on their hill country development experiences with research company UMR through an anonymous survey, as part of a research project commissioned by Environment Canterbury, and supported by Beef & Lamb New Zealand and Federated Farmers (South Canterbury).

The in-depth interviews were undertaken to understand current hill country development practices, as Environment Canterbury considers approaches to help farmers determine whether and how to develop their hill country pastures.

Some sheep and beef farmers are improving hill country productivity by planting older hill country pastures with higher producing pasture species. This commonly involves one or more years in winter feed, and creates an increased risk of sediment losses during this period.

The interviews found that some farmers have already changed their land development practices after previous experience with soil loss, and many are now using direct drilling to establish the pasture or crop and reduce risk of soil loss.

Environment Canterbury’s Manager Zone Delivery, Paul Hulse, said that the interviews also highlighted that many farmers are taking care to avoid or mitigate sediment loss risks through paddock selection, use of direct drilling, and excluding erosion prone land from the development.

“Some farmers expressed concern about the much greater risk of soil loss and soil damage from winter grazing dairy cows, particularly from kale crops on steep hillsides,” he says.

“The survey also discovered that while farmers are aware of an increased use of heli-spraying to sow hill country pastures in New Zealand, it seems to be more used in Manawatu than Canterbury,” says Paul.

“Farmers see less erosion risk from heli-spraying as the remnants of the old pasture help reduce the risk of soil erosion. However, they are acutely aware of the greater risks in steeper hills and the importance of getting the timing right, especially where higher risk winter feed crops are involved.”

Farmers report that better management practices on hill country developments enable them to reach target weights for ewes and young stock.  They achieve higher lamb growth rates, and the result is healthier and heavier stock.

A more detailed telephone survey of 150 farmers in Canterbury and Manawatu will take place this month, providing more information about farmer’s hill country development practices.

“We know that the decision making around whether to develop hill country land requires farmers to assess financial, productivity, and environmental risk.  This Ministry for the Environment-funded project has been developed to help farmers through this process, so that sediment loss caused by winter grazing on farmed hill country land can be reduced and managed,” says Paul.

It is expected that the project will result in creation of a decision tool to aid farmers as they consider the benefits and costs of development of their hill country blocks.   The project is mainly funded through a grant from Ministry for the Environment.

Source: Environment Canterbury

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