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Sean Toohey

Pyper Farm Trials – Meet Chris Pyper

By Customer Stories, Education, Productivity, Soil Health

Southland farmer Chris Pyper has teamed up with Fish IT to embark on a three-year trial programme to assess the impact of a more sustainable, more cost-effective land management practices by incorporating Fish IT across three separate platforms: a 42 hectare cut and carry block where the primary interest is in dry matter growth; a 150 hectare home block that is used to rear 200 R1’s and 200 R2’s in preparation for the 300 hectare milking platform – the Aerodrome of which we will be trialling on 50% of that block. We’ll commence the trial this coming spring.

Chris isn’t new to Fish IT, he has been using it with great success on parts of his farm for the past few seasons although he had a bit of work to do aerating his pastures to get them started. The Aerodrome block had been used to grow spuds and carrots for several years prior to its dairy use today.  The soil was rock hard and depleted creating some mighty tough paddocks. Chris worked his James aerator followed by a Groundhog into the soils followed by varying rounds of Fish IT to get some improvement into the soil. And it is working.

We recently spent a few hours with Chris, visiting the trial sites and digging holes. In our view, Chris’ father, Nelson, has the right approach by looking at the soil beneath one’s feet.  Chris says “I was brought up understanding the importance of using a spade.  And that’s my old man, he loves digging holes.” Chris continues “That first round when we started here at the home block, we averaged one to two worms per spade dig in the seven paddocks that I dug. Now we’re sitting at almost probably eight. That’s within about eight months.”  That’s a great sign that the biology is starting to work its magic.

When it comes to grass, Chris was amazed at the undergrowth that kicked in when he started using Fish IT.  Chris says “Usually after a few days in a paddock, the mobs will chase you to the gate saying ‘I want out’ when there is still plenty of grass left.”  This year, after applying Fish IT, Chris continues “I’d have to open the gate and say ‘What are you doing ladies?’ and they’d be like ‘No, we’re not ready’”.

Chris likes his roast analogy when talking about nutrient management “It’s a roast dinner” he says. “Fish IT is my peas, I still have my ‘nuts and bolts’ meat and I season with urea which is like my salt – used sparingly and required to give the roast an overall balance”. To this end, every paddock gets its own unique treatment that is determined by the paddock’s annual soil test result and the turning of a sod.

A common theme across the agri-sector, inflation has hit hard this year.  Even on a 150 hectare block, Chris knows that between fuel and fertiliser alone they have seen a hefty price increase on the prior year.  It’s time to adapt and the learning from this trial will set up the Pypers and those tuned into the outcomes well for more productive, profitable, sustainable farming.

In the next article in the series on the Pyper Farm Trial we will take a closer look at the approach we will be taking for the trial:  the methodology, the measurements, and the timing.

One thing is certain.  Chris has a primo spot for a field day when we’re ready to do so.  Take a look at the view from the hut looking out across his man-made, or should we say Chris-made, lake! Stay tuned.

Regenerative Agriculture. You’re probably doing it already.

By Regulation, Soil Health, Sustainability

Regenerative agriculture is a term that is slowly gaining a level of acceptance in the New Zealand agricultural sector.  For many years the term and its principles have been scorned in some corners. We are now seeing an increasing uptake by farmers utilising many of its principles, an increase in media coverage and broader acceptance of the term and practices generally.

Nestle’s “Net Zero” sustainability initiative is tackling emissions in its own business and supply chain. This in turn has created a great opportunity for Fonterra to ensure that sustainably grown dairy product is sourced through their supply chain. This represents a premium return on milk solids for participating dairy farmers in New Zealand.

Corporate initiatives like these combined with the New Zealand government roll out of nitrogen cap legislation and the recommendations of the Climate Change Commission means there is a shift in mindset occurring within the sector.

The truth is that many New Zealand farmers are already undertaking some of the guiding principles of regenerative agriculture and reaping the benefits.  As such, they have the ability to move further along the continuum towards environmentally friendly, economically sustainable farming through evolutionary rather than revolutionary means.

Here are six regenerative practices and benefits that you may well be doing right now.

1. Reduced soil disturbance

Minimising soil disturbance by methods such as zero-till, reduced tillage or direct drilling are becoming more common place in New Zealand land management practices. Be it through capital investment or contract drilling, farmers are looking to direct drilling technologies to hold in the moisture, minimise soil disturbance  and incorporate more carbon and nitrogen fixing from the residual crop.

The transition to healthier soil does not happen overnight, but it does happen.

No-till farming leaves crop residues on the surface, which absorb water and limit runoff. This water retention can be critical to farmers in drought-stricken areas and can lead to improved crop yields due to the additional water retention.

2. Increase plant and microbial diversity

Crop rotation is defined as the intentional planting of different types of crops in different paddocks through each season in a sequential manner. It also requires seasonal periods of no planting to give the land time to recover.

Crop rotation helps increase soil fertility and improves crop yields.

Because each plant type uses different nutrients and promotes different micro-organisms through its growing cycle, this improves soil fertility by replenishing nutrients that are not available or utilising nutrients in abundance as you cycle through each season.

The improvement in the nutrient availability through crop rotation will, in time, lead to improved yield.

Soil structure will improve through crop rotation which helps prevent soil compaction, improves soil aeration, reduces soil erosion and delivers better water retention.

3. Keep the soil covered

Cover crops are a long-term investment in improving soil health, controlling erosion, improving water filtration and managing the natural production of nutrients.  The benefits can begin to accrue in year one and build over a few years.

Because cover crops take up space and light, they shade the soil and reducing the opportunity for weeds to establish themselves.

Legume cover crops such as clovers, peas and beans can fix a lot of free nitrogen, from the air, for subsequent crops within the nodules on their roots.  This can range from 60-180kg of N per hectare depending on season and species.

To help build resilience in soil a diverse range of plant species is needed above the ground to cultivate a diverse microbial ecosystem below the ground.

4. Diversify to reduce risk

Diversity in crops brings stability with the ability for the plants to manage abiotic stressors such as flood, drought and temperature extremes better. The more diverse the soil-borne organisms that inhabit a farming system, the more diverse the populations of pest-fighting beneficial organisms a farm can support. For example, healthy soils enriched and revitalised by rotation and cover crops promote root development and water infiltration, thus are less prone to disease.

5. Stimulate organic matter

There are many practices that will stimulate and increase organic matter in the soil.  Anything less than about 20% organic matter in the soil (as scientifically measured with a soil test) means you have room for improvement.

Adding compost, returning crop residues, adding micro organisms from EMNZ, crop rotation and diversification and the planting of nitrogen-fixing legumes all play a role in stimulating organic matter in your soil.

Of course, with organic matter you need to feed it and that is where the application of Fish IT Refined comes in to its own.

6. Sustainable grazing practices

There are many variables to sustainable grazing practices including such matters as stock count, grazing intensity and climate. The focus in this blog is around delivering resilience to your pastures to better handle the stresses of climate and deliver nutritious feed to your healthy livestock.

Pasture growth is determined by a combination of rainfall intensity and the ability to store your rainfall in the soil, ground cover, soil type and condition, evaporation, slope and tree cover.

In short, better quality soil leads to better quality pasture. Soil health has a direct impact on protein levels in pasture. Low soil phosphorous and nitrogen are the most common restrictions on pasture growth.  By taking the approach of cover crops, crop rotation, multi-species diversity and nitrogen-fixing legumes you will maximise your pasture yield, quality and resilience to abiotic stresses whilst being able to manage downward some of your synthetic inputs and associated cost.

Farmers across New Zealand are adapting to new production methods brought on by changes in legislation.  Taking a sustainable approach to your farming practices does not need to be “big bang”.  You can take a test, measure, learn approach by utilising any of the approaches discussed here.  Think of it as a biological transformation on your farm, applying your father’s production values with your grandfather’s methods.

Ready to understand the biology of your soil?

Download The Definitive Guide to Benchmarking the Soil at your Feet to learn methods for evaluating your soil and solutions for starting the journey to optimise soil health.

Big Plans for South Canterbury

By Customer Stories, Field Outcomes, Soil Health, Sustainability

Sam Clearwater, Clearwater Contracting

If you need something done, ask a busy person.

We met up with Sam Clearwater and I think it is fair to say that this expression embodies the work ethic of Clearwater Contracting quite well.

Sam runs a fertiliser application contracting business out of his base at Peel Forest in South Canterbury with a focus on the application of liquid fertiliser to get results above the ground in pasture growth and below the ground with emphasis on improving biology in the soil to deliver sustainable results.

The Approach

Sam explains “My background is organic dairy farming at Peel Forest in South Canterbury. We’ve been organic for 22 years now and this has driven my direction into liquid fertilisers. Fertilisers are a precious resource, and we need to utilise them as best as possible.  We need to be increasing our biology count in our soils tenfold and bio-stimulants like Fish IT play a big role in achieving that.”

It’s early days for Sam as he is transitioning from his family dairy farm operation to a contract application business – Clearwater Contracting – but he’s picking up new clients and is running hard at the opportunity.

“We’ve invested in a Tow and Fert 4000, which is an upgrade from the Tow and Fert 1000 we’ve been using for a few years on our own farm, and a tractor to tow it. The Tow and Fert allows us to mix multiple products together in liquid form which gives a much better uptake compared to solid fertilisers and the 4000 allows us to cover greater areas efficiently. Our customers may require a mix of urea, DAP and other fertilisers but in much less volume due to the benefits of liquid application. Using Fish IT gets biology into the equation and we get fantastic results”

A Key Concern

Sam’s biggest concern on the farms he visits is long term sustainability. Sam says “I see a lot of guys pouring huge amounts of potent fertilisers onto their soils. I get out and dig some holes and there’s no worms there. There are compacted soils, heavily bacterial dominant, which creates compaction. It’s concerning to see that. A change is required and through liquid application of appropriate recipes, we believe we can help that change.

“Fertilisers are a precious resource, and we need to utilise them as best as possible. We need to be increasing our biology count in our soils tenfold”

What’s Next

Clearwater Contracting are in a growth phase as they build their client base in South Canterbury. Sam comments “We want to see more clients and we want to see them carry on their success. We’re already seeing fantastic results and we want to take them further. We’re doing herbage tests and we will continue to do our Visual Soil Assessments as part of our on farm analysis. We continue this process with our clients to make sure we’re doing everything properly and help our clients succeed at what they they want to achieve.”

Sam continues “Success for me is two things.  We want to provide a decent, reliable service – the best service possible – and we want to help our customers achieve real sustainability. They’re at a serious turning point at the moment environmentally, and we want to help them get in front of the game. We want our clients growing as much grass as they can with little or no synthetic inputs.”

Sam Clearwater and Clearwater Contracting are on a mission in South Canterbury.  If you’re in their area, would like an assessment of your farm and are looking to liquid fertiliser as a path forward get in touch.

Marshalls reduce nitrogen inputs by 70% with Fish It

By All, Customer Stories

Georgie Galloway is the Farm Manager at Graham and Gail Marshall’s 160-hectare farm just outside of Invercargill, a livestock fattening operation that winters 1,500 dairy cows, raises 500 bull calves, and trade store lambs.

Before they started using Fish IT, the Marshall team applied 150 kg of urea three times per year to the kale crop, along with 450 kg of DAP.  They bought in supplementary feed for the winter.

One day, having gotten halfway through applying solid urea to a 5 hectare paddock before running out, Graham thought to himself, “Yep, I’ll notice that in 2-3 months for sure.” There should have been a big deficit in crop growth (on one side of the paddock). “We thought that it would hurt our production.”

However, 2-3 months later Georgie says there was no difference at all, the side of the paddock that did have solid urea applied had grown no more than the side that hadn’t.

Since using Fish IT our production of kale and grass has increased along with quality. We no longer need to buy in supplementary feed and the pastures have become higher in clover percentage that doesn't bloat stock.

Georgie GallowayFarm Manager

“So that was our main trigger for why we would look at something different.”

It was shortly after this that Georgie and Graham approached the team at Fish It.

The Marshalls apply Fish It in liquid form using the big spray nozzle of a Tow and Fert 1200. This system allows them to add other macro nutrients in liquid form in the same application.

The payback on the capital investment of the Tow and Fert was realised in the first year with savings achieved through lower synthetic inputs across the farm.

Less Synthetic Nitrogen

We have gone from using 450 kg of urea across the entire farm to 120 kgs in conjunction with 90 kgs of Fish IT.

Increased Feed Production

We used to make approximately 2,500 bales of hay on the farm, since using Fish IT that has increased to 3,000 bales per annum.

Cost Reduction

With the reduction in fertiliser costs from around $100,000 per annum, the Marshalls bought investment down to around $50,000 with more productivity.

“After we cut the grass for baleage we apply 30 litres of Fish It and 150kg of Serpentine Super 10K.  We no longer use urea on the grass.”

The Marshall farm has increased baleage production by an additional 500 bales per year and no longer need to rely on supplementary feed.

With the addition of Fish It we now use 70% less urea across the entire farm, we have better pastures, better crops, healthier animals and no need for pesticides.

Georgie GallowayFarm Manager

Looking ahead

The Marshall farm are an intensive farm operation that is three years into their Fish It journey.

The timing is right to conduct some further soil analysis to inform them on the soil structure and biology which will lead to further refinements in inputs to drive greater outputs.

We’ll follow these up in the next article on the Marshall farm journey.

Georgie’s Fish It journey

A shout out to our friends at Tow & Fert who captured the story of how Georgie has increased her production for wintering cows.

The Transition 3:21

Watch Georgie talk about the problem, the solution and the farms transition from synthetic fertiliser to Fish IT.

The Outcome 4:00

Georgie discusses the farms migration to a Fish IT lead land management strategy supported by smaller quantities of urea.

The Future 2:26

Georgie reflects on the future, on the lessons learned, observations and her expectations.