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Field Outcomes

The Narrows – A Farm Management Case Study

By Animal Health, Customer Stories, Field Outcomes, How To, Productivity, Soil Health, Sustainability

Lachie Craw, Contract Milker at Southern Farms’ The Narrows in Riverton, packs quite a bit of farming experience into his youthful frame.  He grew up on a sheep and beef farm just out of Waikoikoi in west Otago, worked weekends dairy farming before going full time for family friends, a year dairy farming in Ireland and the same again in Australia, a stint at Farm Source and then the past five years at The Narrows.

In this article, we hear from Lachie as he talks about his time at The Narrows, his farming ethos, the progress he has made over the past five years towards improved land management practices and where to from here.

Taking the right approach

Lachie is driven to work smarter, not harder. As he says “I’m all for working hard. But, you know, there’s got to be a balance between work and family life and I look to incorporate that approach with my workers. Flexibility is key. The farm owner just wants to do things once and do it properly, which I’m definitely happy about”. Lachie has good stability in his crew of three full timers, including himself, and a couple of part time calving helpers. This year he has been able to drop one full time staff while maintaining production, without increasing work effort. So things are definitely heading in the right direction.

The Narrows

The Narrows is part of the Southern Farms Ltd group, nestled between the Pourakino and Aparima rivers across from Riverton in Southland. Lachie explains “We’re about 290 hectares effective. This calving we’re going to calve down to about 880, peak milk 850. When I first got here, we were 950 peak milk. The idea going forward for us is milk less cows and do the same production or more, essentially. The last couple of years they’ve averaged around that 460kg milk solids per cow. The year before I got here it was 330kg so we’ve come a long way.”

For Lachie, it is all about setting The Narrows platform up to farm sustainably in the long term. As he says “100 to 120 less cows and be able to do the same amount of production you know, there’s cost savings in that because you’re not running the shed for probably an extra half an hour a day. And it takes the pressure off time and labour”.

When you couple this with improved pasture management and an improving herd quality, it’s a win-win.

Five years ago

Lachie spoke of some initial observations when he first arrived at The Narrows. The clover root weevil was a major problem. If you drove around the farm and you’d be lucky to find two clover plants. You might have found one worm.

“I think the practices I was coming into were probably non-existent, to be fair. I remember when we when first came and had a look around the farm prior to moving here. We drove past a couple young grass paddocks that the cows had just come out of after a storm. And the paddocks were black. Practices and management just wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Lachie continues “You’d put a mob in a paddock at five o’clock in the morning, you go past them a few hours later at nine o’clock and they’re just not happy. They’ve trampled half the paddock and want to get out, even on a fine day”

Back then The Narrows were wintering about 300 cows on farm on fodder beet. There was plenty of it but the problem was that the fences were only being moved about half a metre to a metre per day. Lachie explains “If you’ve got a five or six hundred kilo animal staying in one place, that just ruins the soil structure. You might have grown 30 tonne that year, but you’re only growing 8 tonne for the next five years. So it just doesn’t stack up.”


A step change today

There have been many improvements Lachie has overseen at The Narrows and we’ll cover these changes but for now, let’s focus a couple of metrics around grass growth and animal health before we dig into the approach Lachie took to get here.

Dry Matter

Last year Lachie grew 14.8 tonne of dry matter on farm per hectare which equated to 720 bales. Three years ago he was making about 180 bales of bailage. As Lachie says “While we’ve got run off blocks, which are run separately around the coast, supplement feed comes from bailage and silage. So with improved pasture management we’ve been able to make a bale of bailage on farm for well under half the price of what you buy one and you’ve got control over quality.” Lachie continues “That bale tends to  twice as good as the $110 bail you bought in you know, so, yeah, it’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned.” Better quality feed at a lower price that positively impacts the bottom line, we like that.

Animal Health

Dairy farmers monitor somatic cells because they can be used as a measure of the health of their cows. Lachie comments “Just the general animal health is a whole lot better. The average cell count the year the year before I got here was around that 360-370 (thousand) mark. First year I was here we were about 300. The last two years we’re at about 170 so we’ve come down a lot”. Great progress there! Lachie continues “You know, there’s no reason why we can’t be around that 120-130 mark. It’s essentially where we’ve sat since Christmas.”


The path to improvement

Like in any business, success is not always a straight line, and there is no end-point – you just keep going. The Japanese have a term for this – they call it Kaizen – which is a compound of two Japanese words that together translate as “good change” or “improvement.” In recent times, Kaizen has come to mean “continuous improvement”.

In a nutshell, the following management practices have helped Lachie continuously improve The Narrows long term sustainability:


  • A focus on herd quality that delivers bottom line results with reduced health costs
  • A direct drill trial that delivered positive results on yield
  • The application of soil aeration to provide oxygen into the topsoil
  • The importance of keeping residuals at a decent level (grass grows grass!)
  • Applying Fish IT fish hydrolysate as part of the regime to feed the soil biology, boost production and improve animal health through a better pasture diet
  • Mixing up grass species to provide diversity
  • A continuous programme to regrass old and under-performing paddocks

Direct Drilling

Lachie is a big fan of direct drilling seed into the soil. A couple of winters back he planted 15 hectares of kale. Half direct drilled, half conventionally spread. It was all treated the same over winter. The big win was that Lachie got the half that was direct drilled back into young grass 10 weeks earlier than the conventional.

Improved grasses

Lachie believes it was the overuse of nitrogen that soured the grasses in the early days when he first arrived. Lachie points out “The clover content wasn’t there either. I think that there was so much N on the plant, which probably relied on it, and the palatability probably wasn’t great. It would have soured a whole lot of it. The cows weren’t interested.”

He continues “I definitely think the Fish has helped push things along a bit faster and brought the biology back to life. Before using Fish IT we went round and dug a dozen holes. We were lucky to find five worms total. Today you go and find 10-20 worms in one hole. So the biological activity has definitely come back.”

At The Narrows, Lachie worked out that it was only $3 per hectare more to chopper apply compared with tractor spray boom or Tow and Fert, so one big benefit is that the entire farm is done by lunchtime leaving the afternoon to get back to milking.

Between the supplements in the shed and the improved pasture quality and palatability influenced by the Fish IT biostimulants, the cows are now “happy as” according to Lachie. He continues “It’s the argument of wholefood versus junk food in a way. I suppose if you eat McDonald’s every day then you’re not going to feel great are you?”

Nitrogen Use

Lachie is still using around 160 units of nitrogen over the past couple of seasons. He says “We’re still using relatively high amount of nitrogen. But going forward, you know, the idea is to bring that bring that down” As the biology kicks in and the nutrient cycle gets into full swing “then, you know, there’s no reason why we can’t half what we’re what we’re using. Going forward but we need to get the remaining paddocks renovated first.” We concur, Lachie.


Lachie’s grasses are still ryegrass dominant but he has been putting in some clover species, new generation cocksfoot, plantain and rye grass varieties. There are some great benefits to offering diverse species to the biology as the microbe communities in the soil thrive on diversity and give back with a multiplier effect in terms of nutrients to the plant.
Lachie expanded on his views around cocksfoot “They’re pretty hardy plants. I’ve got a paddock of old cocksfoot that I could put 100 cows in today, leave for a week and it’d be black. Two days later it’ll be green again. Based on that I’m including it in the seed mix.”


Leaving a decent residual has had a big positive impact on grass growth at the Narrows.
“Two thirds of the year, probably I leave 1600-1650 residual. If I go lower than that, say 1500, it takes a week to recover to 1650 from where it starts growing properly again”. Lachie continues “I’ve been on shorter rounds since I’ve started doing that I think we’ve grown a lot more grass because of it.”


Looking ahead at The Narrows

“Going forward we’ve still got plenty of room to move” Lachie states. “The idea is to keep it pretty simple. Going forward, we are going to renovate a bit more pasture than we have in the past. And just get it to a standard where we can sit at the 10 to 15% a year mark pasture renewal. This will help us grow a lot more feed on farm”

Lachie will stay the path to reduce his units of nitrogen. This will come through a combination of improved natural nitrogen cycling in the soil so that the plant receives synthetic nitrogen as a tool rather than a drug. Applying a liquid N will assist in reducing the amount of units required too. Lachie is taking a good look at the benefits of using a spray application with a Tow and Fert to be able to mix fertiliser, Fish IT biostimulants and other nutrients to get the compounding benefit of a single application of the appropriate recipe of minerals and nutrients.

Lachie concludes “I can see plenty of potential and our aim is to have a cow that’s going to give us 500kg milk solids a year. Some of that’s breeding but a lot of it is management. You know, you can have the best BW and PW cow in the world but if she doesn’t calf or doesn’t produce milk then she’s worth not worth anything. So to get to that level in the next couple of years – that’s the aim”

Good one Lachie, for what it is worth we think you are on the right track. We’ll be sure to check in for an update further down the track.


Less Stress and More Profit – A Case Study

By Animal Health, Customer Stories, Field Outcomes, How To, Productivity, Soil Health, Sustainability

This month we continue our two-part blog series on a King Country farmer and his story of transitioning to a biological system, what it did for his farm productivity and, importantly, how it impacted his profitability.

If you missed part one, you can read the article here.

Our story relates to Raymond Burr who today runs a laboratory Qlabs to help primary producers create healthy soils. Twenty five years ago, Ray and his partner Donna ran a dairy farm in the King Country.

During the 1990s there was a history of high inputs of nitrogen and phosphate fertiliser across New Zealand that was a very recent introduction to farming practices. Through the period of 1997-2000 Ray noted that the pasture was deteriorating with a loss of ryegrass and clover cover and a reversion to low fertility species such as yorkshire fog, brown top and sweet vernal. Through this same period, animal health and production were also deteriorating with a crisis occurring in the 1999/2000 season:

The Crisis

Through this same period, animal health and production were also deteriorating with a crisis occurring in the 1999/2000 season:

  • Almost one third of the herd of 600 dairy cows were hormonally induced to calve that Spring.
  • Retention of foetal membranes (RFM) in 20% of the newly calved cows (120 total).
  • 30% of replacement calves diagnosed with Rotavirus.
  • 420 CIDRs for non-cycling cows.
  • 72 cows vetted empty.
  • Deaths – 25-30 cows.
  • Mating period extended to 24 weeks to achieve an 88% in-calf rate (528 cows).

The Investigation

Ray and Donna considered that their issues may have a nutritional basis so they engaged Peter Lester of Quantum Laboratory in Hawkes Bay to a meeting and undertook a programme to make changes in feed management and fertiliser practices based on pasture and soil samples collected from the farm.

The aim of the investigation was to monitor the changes in mineral concentrations in the soil, plant and animal over the period before and after the introduction of the new plan.

The Transition

The tables below outline the progression of the farm’s key performance indicators through the period of transition from the 2000 season to 2004.  The first table shows key performance indicators over the period while the second table illustrates the inputs regime.

“The aim of the game is to get that animal health under control and then you start making money. Our farming got to the point where it was so stress free, we couldn’t wait for the new season to start to see what further improvements would be made.”

Raymond BurrKing Country Dairy Farmer, now owner of QLabs

A Positive Impact

Within a four year window, Ray and Donna experienced a significant turn around on their farm.

  • $250,000 annual improvement to the farm bottom line by 2004. This is adjusted to normalise milk payout over the period.
  • Maintained 273kg of milk solids per cow in an era when 200kg was the national average.
  • No inductions.
  • No CIDRs.
  • Animal health cost per cow reduced from $90 to $38 per cow.
  • 25+ additional culled cows to sell at the end of the season with losses down from 25-30 in 2000, to 5 in 2004.
  • No downer cows throughout the season.
  • Very few lame cows.
  • Labour cost reductions. Reducing the herd and land (but maintaining average milk solids / cow) allowed Donna and Ray to reduce the team by one full time person (FTE) providing a significant labour cost reduction. Also, with a vastly improved animal health, labour requirements were dramatically reduced.
  • Replaced 60 tonnes annual of trough fed molasses to an in-shed, controlled feeding system to give them exactly what they need based on herbage test results.
  • Inputs remained approximately the same in terms of per hectare cost but with a shift away from traditional synthetic fertilisers to custom blends including: Calcium Limestone, Serpentine, Muriate of Potash, Borate 48, Manganese Sulphate, Copper Sulphate, Zinc Sulphate, Cobalt Sulphate.
  • Increase in milk solids per hectare driven by increased grass growth with no need for run off or additional feed to be brought in.
  • Animal health costs increased 2003 to 2004 but this was inflationary with less drugs required in 2004 over 2003 but at a higher price.

The Final Word

Improvements in your Economic Farm Surplus (EFS) come from producing healthier animals and more of them. In this case study, cost of inputs remained relatively the same through the transition to a remarkably more profitable farming system with $250,000 added to annually to the bottom line.

As Ray says “The aim of the game is to get that animal health under control and then you start making money. Our farming got to the point where it was so stress free, we couldn’t wait for the new season to start to see what further improvements would be made.”

Now that’s something worth thinking about.

Changing Tack – Sustainable Farm Management

By Animal Health, Customer Stories, Education, Field Outcomes, Productivity, Soil Health, Sustainability

Our conversation with Ray Burr was a long one so we have broken it into two parts. In this article we discuss his King Country dairy farm system pivot and how that went for Ray and his partner Donna. Next month we will get into the nuts and bolts of his bottom line improvements and how they stacked up in the fine tuning of his farming system.

Setting the scene

Farmers today are facing a future of increased complexity arising from new regulatory requirements, He Waka Eke Noa, changing consumer awareness and supply chain demand for sustainable produce such as the Nestlé Net Zero Roadmap where 50% of their ingredients will be sourced through regenerative agricultural methods by 2030 (cue Fonterra increasing sustainability requirements on dairy producers).

The ongoing challenge is how to balance the needs of the planet with the needs of the people, while at the same time achieving economic prosperity.

In the middle of this is the farmer: spinning multiple plates labelled ‘uncertainty’, ‘high stakes’, ’small margins’, ‘fast changes’ and ‘judgment’. Farmers today are faced with the most challenging ‘perfect storm’: increasing input costs, softening commodity prices and interest rate driven mortgage stress and the feeling of being backed into a corner. Making a change from traditional farming systems were production may be high but economic surplus is marginal and the bank manager is breathing down your neck is akin to undertaking heart transplant surgery… while you’re riding the Tour de France. Ray has been there, and he has done that.

The Big Three

In terms of mineral recommendations, sulfur and boron, being anions, continually leach out of the system and need top up so these minerals are always required.  Reece explains “They don’t lock up in the soil like cations, so we know every year you are going to need a minimum of 20 kilos per hectare of boron and 80 kilos of sulfur 90.  The other mineral that is very deficient in New Zealand soils is silica.  Our goal is to get silica to a minimum of 2000 parts per million. Silica is great at tying up the excess aluminium that resides in NZ soils after decades of synthetic fertiliser treatment”.  Reece continues “Within 10 weeks of tying up aluminium what we are seeing through herbage tests are significant increases in copper, magnesium, calcium and phosphate without applying any of those products.  All these nutrients have been tied up in the soil for years and begin to unlock. You’ve paid for that fertiliser, you may as well be using it.”  One of Reece’s dairy customers has been five years without any phosphate application and is it still way above where it needs to be. “By doing the total nutrient test with Peter Norwood, Highland Nutrition have an inventory of nutrients and we know where things are at as every nutrient is given a rating” Reece explains.

“I studied at Massey University back in the mid 80s, where if we used more than 25 kilograms of nitrogen, we were given a growling, a big red cross and told ‘you're overstocked, you have to destock’. So even back in the 80s, we knew well and the lecturers knew that we weren't supposed to use too much of this stuff, because it's going to have a detrimental effect. Well, fast forward 40 years and the detrimental effects are here.”

Raymond BurrKing Country Dairy Farmer, now owner of QLabs

Recent history

Ray started our conversation with a little bit of background. He explains “I studied at Massey University back in the mid 80s, where if we used more than 25 kilograms of nitrogen, we were given a growling, a big red cross and told ‘you’re overstocked, you have to destock’. So even back in the 80s, we knew well and the lecturers knew that we weren’t supposed to use too much of this stuff, because it’s going to have a detrimental effect. Well, fast forward 40 years and the detrimental effects are here.”

Between 1990 and 2020 agricultural nitrogen inputs increased 800% in New Zealand without an equivalent increase pasture production. In the quest for ever-greater productivity, turning to fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides is now killing our soils, stressing our farmers and threatening our ecology.

Although New Zealand has some of the richest soils in the world, decades of land management practices that follow the status quo have taken their toll, depleting the essential nutrients and killing off bacteria and fungi that create organic material essential to plants. With the catastrophic climatic conditions impacting New Zealand recently, soil health has been in the spotlight. In a world where government agencies and agribusiness have long pursued the holy grail of maximum pasture production, it is time to take a different approach.

Ray states his position “So we have to get smarter because these products are getting dearer and the future of food production is going to be regulated, we’ve got to really get down into the efficiencies of making work what we’ve already got. That is soil functionality.”

Isn’t it all about the science?

The Big Fert companies in New Zealand will tell you it is all about the science. Ray challenges that proposition. “Their science was done last century. So once that science has fulfilled its promise to produce food, where do you go next?” He continues “You have to look at new ways of getting even better at what you do. Take superphosphate for instance. we’ve been pouring it on in this country for donkey’s years. The next conversation has to be about how do we make the whole farming system more efficient, so that we can utilise more of what we’re putting on. The answer to that lies in the soil”

Ray explains “In my journey, as a farmer, we converted our sheep and beef farm in the King Country to dairying in 1990. And we milked 520 cows back when the average cow herd was 125 cows. So, we were quite innovative in what we were doing… until the wheels fell off. Too much nitrogen, too much phosphate. And too many health issues with the cows.” Ray continues “You know, you love your animals, you look after them, and it just tears you apart when they’re not getting any calves, aborting and all the rest of the health-related issues. The ‘science’ wasn’t working”

It was at this point Ray took matters into his own hands. “I did a big study on my farm and I paid my vet to do a five year recall of all the products I’d used on my farm and fertiliser programs and animal health issues from my own records. I sent it off to two of the top soil scientists in New Zealand and their eventual response after much follow up was ‘No, you’re right Ray, just carry on’.” Unimpressed, Ray sought out the experience of an NZ soil lab seeking a 13 element based, holistic soil fertility program and was refused help as it challenged the status quo. Third time lucky, Ray found Quantum Laboratories in the Hawkes Bay. A couple that owned a niche lab and worked directly and independently with farmers. Ray was so impressed he eventually bought the rights to the business in New Zealand which, today, operates as QLabs.

Sustainable Farm Management

With a revised fertiliser approach addressing all 13 elemental soil requirements and soil fertility, Ray smiles and says “the animal health turnaround on our farm was just amazing. After three years, no CIDRs, no inductions, ten week mating, eight week calving and no downer cows – none at all”. He continues “our farm was ticking along that smoothly, we had 520 dairy cows, two classes of young stock, 800 head of cattle altogether. Donna and I and one staff. We put in all our own crops, re-grassed, spread all our own fertiliser twice a year and we got a nitrogen use down to 15 kilograms for one third of the first rotation. I don’t think we needed it. But hey, it’s a feelgood factor.” After a full analysis of the books, Ray’s accountant was able to determine that these changes resulted in an additional $250,000 per annum direct to the bottom line by year three.

The fertiliser conundrum

The bank manager really put pressure on Ray and Donna. Ray explains “The bank manager said ‘Look, you’re not feeding maize silage, you’re not putting on urea. You know you’re gonna go broke’ I said don’t worry about me, worry about the others. The bank manager told me to submit my books to Mark and Measure (the Dairy NZ Annual Conference). So I did”

Ray continues “That year there were about 60 of us farmers. We submit our audited books for them to go through so they could compare apples with apples. We got there on the first day of the three day conference, Donna and I and this other couple, we were laughing and carrying on everybody else was pretty serious. At the end of the first day, we had to put our production figures up and they were middle of the road-ish. I said, don’t worry about that, wait till tomorrow. So tomorrow came along, the couple that we were laughing and having a lot of fun with had the highest economic farm surplus (EFS) there, and we were $20 behind them at $1300/hectare – at a time when milk solids pay out was $3-4/kg. “

“It was pleasurable farming, we just laughed and carried on and the guy that was there that did the highest production, his phone just rang nonstop for the three days and he left on the third day because something had gone wrong on the farm. He did twice as much production per hectare as us and had an EFS of $64 per hectare.

At the end of the conference, the audience was asked by the facilitator ‘what did you learn?’ Ray stuck his hand up and said “I wouldn’t get out of bed for $64 a hectare. All that work, all that stress.” Two days after the conference the bank manager arrived at the farm to quiz Ray and Donna on how they got on. That was the last time they saw or herd from a bank manager.

The bottom line

For Ray, it is all about soil health, plant health, animal health. As he says “At the end of the day it’s the animal and its produce you sell that funds the whole operation. So kilograms of dry matter, anybody can grow kilograms of dry matter, just go and chuck urea on but that is not animal performance.”

And as for the Big Fert ‘science’. Ray is a great believer that on farm is where all the good discussion takes places. He asserts “Get out in the field so you can actually look at things and have those real discussions”. He continues “New Zealand farmers are probably the biggest research organisation in New Zealand. If they were allowed a little bit more freedom, then there would be even better research”.

In the next article in our conversation with Ray Burr, we will look at the bottom line improvements in his King Country dairy operation and where the financial benefits came from in fine tuning his farming system.

Taking a Balanced View To Sustainable Profitable Farming

By Animal Health, Customer Stories, Education, Field Outcomes, Productivity, Soil Health, Sustainability

It All Starts In The Soil

The Fish IT team came through Balclutha last month on a road trip from Invercargill and caught up with agronomist Reece Johnston who owns and operates Highland Nutrition – a soil consultancy with a biologically and mineral based farming system, focusing on soil fertility that delivers profitable, sustainable, and environmentally sound farming outcomes for his clients. If that all sounds interesting, read on.

Reece has always had a keen interest in biology, starting in high school and continuing as he watched his grandfather grow crops with little need for chemical fertilizer. Fast forward to today and the importance of biology remains at the fore.

Highland Nutrition’s approach is to focus on mineral nutrient balance in the soil, unlock tied up minerals for us and use biostimulants to feed the microbes and drive soil fertility and natural systems of nutrient cycling. Their approach with their customers is to undertake annual soil tests and quarterly herbage testing. Reece says “We use Perry Laboratory in the USA who run the Albrecht fertility system and focus on beneficial nutrient percentages to optimise plant growth.  We send another sample to Environmental Analysis Laboratory in Lismore, New South Wales to do a heavy metal and total nutrient test.  From there we work with Peter Norwood at Full Circle Nutrition to formulate our recommendations”

The recommendations will be a combination of nutrients to balance the soils and Fish IT fish hydrolysate to feed the soil microbes allowing nutrients to be unlocked and made available to the plant as well as to substantially simulate worm activity and clover production.

The Big Three

In terms of mineral recommendations, sulfur and boron, being anions, continually leach out of the system and need top up so these minerals are always required.  Reece explains “They don’t lock up in the soil like cations, so we know every year you are going to need a minimum of 20 kilos per hectare of boron and 80 kilos of sulfur 90.  The other mineral that is very deficient in New Zealand soils is silica.  Our goal is to get silica to a minimum of 2000 parts per million. Silica is great at tying up the excess aluminium that resides in NZ soils after decades of synthetic fertiliser treatment”.  Reece continues “Within 10 weeks of tying up aluminium what we are seeing through herbage tests are significant increases in copper, magnesium, calcium and phosphate without applying any of those products.  All these nutrients have been tied up in the soil for years and begin to unlock. You’ve paid for that fertiliser, you may as well be using it.”  One of Reece’s dairy customers has been five years without any phosphate application and is it still way above where it needs to be. “By doing the total nutrient test with Peter Norwood, Highland Nutrition have an inventory of nutrients and we know where things are at as every nutrient is given a rating” Reece explains.

The biological system seems to make clover grow, like urea does to grass. And then you’re fixing your nitrogen from the air for free instead of buying it out of a bag. Yep, we're getting Mother Nature to do all the hard work.

Reece JohnstonOwner, Highland Nutrition

A Sustainable, Viable Approach

Farming sustainability is at the heart of what drives Reece to help his clients.  Reece says “All decisions need to be profitable for the farmer. Because at the end of the day, if it’s not economically sound, the banks will lose interest. So, it’s got to start there. In the process, we can help our clients cut back on animal health costs to trim the bottom line, that’s where it’s all at”.  Reece strives to work within existing fertiliser budgets as his customers transition to better, higher yielding, more profitable systems. For example, Reece explains “Our mix that we put on with the Fish IT in it is $67.70 a hectare. It’s equivalent to 50 kilos of urea in price. Only a one or two dollar per hectare difference in price, but the big thing is, we may only put two, maybe three applications a year on”

Great Results

Another of Reece’s customers has between 3,100kg and 4,700kg DM / ha cover on his dairy platform. A phenomenal amount of grass. Reece says “And the thing is, it’s not llike it’s above your knees. It’s just that the pasture is so dense underneath. Even when a paddock’s been topped and grazed they still have over 2000 (kg DM / ha) cover and the clover comes back big and fast.”  He continues “the biological system seems to make clover grow, like urea does to grass. And then you’re fixing your nitrogen from the air for free instead of buying it out of a bag. Yep, we’re getting Mother Nature to do all the hard work”.

Yet another of Reece’s clients who has been with him for a few years made a comment that hasn’t seen any mastitis this season, no laminitis, none of the ‘itises’ which are inflammatory diseases, caused by excessive iron in the pasture. Another issue with excess iron is reproductive issues. Reece states “In our system iron levels need to be 100 to 150 parts per million.  We’ve tested palm kernel supplement feed from a new customer that has recently come on board, and we saw iron levels at six to eight times higher levels than our recommendations.  The client moved away from that quick smart”.

Reece looks after customers on the North Island and South Island with active projects currently from Waikato to Southland. He can currently be emailed or found on Facebook but watch this space, he tells us – a website is coming.

What Does Good Look Like?

I asked Reece what good looks like to him “At end of the day, to see my customers’ milk production up on historic averages by 20 percent or something like that. To know that farmers are putting some dollars in the bank or the local netball club, or that the tennis club sees a couple of bucks out of a local farmer, because he’s got a bit extra to spend. I just want to see continuous growth and profitability for farmers.” He continues “Rural communities and farming is the lifeblood of New Zealand, and we all need to do what we can to get them get back into shape”.

We couldn’t agree more Reece.

The Road to Healthy Profits

By Animal Health, Customer Stories, Education, Field Outcomes, Productivity, Soil Health, Sustainability

Healthy Animals Means Healthy Profits

We recently had the pleasure of participating in the Wairarapa Rural Women’s Initiative Discussion Group.  The theme of the October meeting was better farm management through alternative fertiliser options.

The event was held in the woolshed at our very own Jeane Fowler’s sheep and beef farm in Alfredton. A group of twenty or so farming ladies and a few farming fellas got together to hear from two industry experts on practical considerations when considering a move to alternative, environmentally friendly and financially sustainable practices to run a productive, profitable farming operation.  That’s quite a mouthful but that is exactly what the session was all about.

Joining us on the day were Gordon Rajendram, a Waikato-based soil scientist who helps New Zealand farmers make better fertiliser decisions, and Raymond Burr, ex-dairy farmer and owner of independent testing lab Qlabs in Waipawa. Gordon and Ray both tackle the opportunity to change from a dollars and cents perspective. A view they hold in common is that farming profitability starts with healthy soil to generate nutritious plants that provide a healthy well-balanced feed for the animals.  It is more than just a consideration of cost of inputs vs outputs, there are many benefits to starting with what’s in the soil that deliver direct to the bottom-line of a farm’s profitability.

Ray and Donna’s Journey

Ray and Donna Burr converted their sheep and beef farm in King Country to a dairy platform back in 1990, milking 520 cows back when the average cow herd was 125 cows. They were quite innovative in what they were doing until the wheels fell off.  Too much nitrogen, too much phosphate and too many health issues with the cows. After receiving little useful information from some of the top scientists in New Zealand and consulting a laboratory that could not offer independent advice, Ray sought out a niche laboratory in Hawkes Bay which was able to offer him analysis and advice across the full 13 elements.  Ray says “The animal health turn around on the farm was simply amazing. After 3 years: no CIDRs, no inductions, no downer cows, a ten-week mating period, eight-week calving period and a vet visit once per year.” Increased milk solids per cow and some very healthy improvements to the bottom-line of the farm.

Raymond Burr, Qlabs

The animal health turn around on the farm was simply amazing. After 3 years: no CIDRs, no inductions, no downer cows, a ten-week mating period, eight-week calving period and a vet visit once per year.

Raymond BurrOwner, Qlabs and ex-Dairy Farmer

Ray, Donna and one herd manager ran the 520 dairy cows and around 250 young stock.  The three of them did all their own crops, regrassing and fertiliser applications.  Nitrogen use went down to 15 kilograms of urea per hectare for one third of the farm in the first rotation.  As Ray says “I don’t think we needed it, but hey it was a feel good factor”.

The laboratory Ray sought out in 2000 was Quantum Laboratories, the New Zealand arm of a US operation.  Ray and Donna bought the business outright in 2016 and run the renamed QLabs as an independent, family-owned laboratory that is focused on animal performance starting with the soil and the plant.  Today from its beginnings as Quantum Laboratories, QLabs has been in operation for 45 years.  QLabs recently patented RNJE – urinary nitrogen evaluation from testing pastures which offers farmers a pragmatic measure to assess how to moderate N losses and nitrous oxide volatilisation.

Show Me The Money

As Ray says “It’s all about soil health, plant health and animal health. And at the end of the day, it’s the animals and their produce that fund the whole operation. Kilograms of dry matter? Anybody can grow kilograms of dry matter, just add urea. But that is not animal performance. We soil test for all 13 elements in the lab and we won’t make a fertiliser recommendation, unless we’ve tested for all of them because something small might be the limiting factor.”

The Bottom Line?

On their King Country dairy farm, they achieved a cash flow turnaround of approximately $250,000 per annum within 3 years – milk pay out adjusted.  Ray took the group through an interactive whiteboard session to demonstrate the operational and cash flow benefits of improved animal health across a farming platform. It was very much “dollars and sense” discussion and, yes, it starts in the soil.

Soil Scientist Gordon Rajendram

Dr Gordon Rajendram (PhD) is a Waikato-based soil scientist.  With more than 35 years’ experience in analytical testing, applied research including 22 years at AgResearch in Ruakura, Gordon now provides independent advice to farmers and fertiliser companies around New Zealand.

Gordon Rajendram, Soil Scientist

Soil testing allows farmers to make the best and most informed, data-based decisions for their farm, resulting in healthier land and stock as well as making a difference to your bottom-line

Gordon RajendramSoil Scientist

Gordon started by touching on the five universal factors in the soil that drive pasture growth: soil temperature above 5 or 6 degrees celcius (at 10cm depth), soil moisture above 25%, soil pH (ideal pH range 6.2-6.5) and 13 nutrients, good structure and porosity for air flow and good soil biology.  These are like the soil hygiene factors for good pasture growth.

Testing 1,2,3

Gordon’s non-negotiable is that soil, pasture and animal blood tests are key if farmers want to get the most out of their fertiliser applications.  Soil and herbage tests will provide farmers with accurate data about the mineral imbalances that may be affecting the health of their crops or livestock.

For Gordon, the devil is always in the data details. He advises “Soil testing allows farmers to make the best and most informed, data-based decisions for their farm, resulting in healthier land and stock as well as making a difference to your bottom-line”.

His recommendation is to develop fertiliser programmes specific to different areas on your farm and adjusting appropriate to the 13 elements required for plant & soil health and the 3 more trace minerals required for animal health.  Using too little fertiliser can be as wasteful and using too much.


Anion Storage Capacity

The importance of knowing the Anion Storage Capacity (ASC) was a discussion thread in Gordon’s presentation.  Farm soil ASC is needed to understand the ability for your soil type to hold on to anions – particularly phosphate and sulphur. Gordon explains “If your soil has an ASC of less than 40% it is more likely to be vulnerable to phosphate loss”.  That means that, for lower ASC soils, RPR may be a better form of slow-release phosphate than a highly soluble phosphate even though the latter may be cheaper on a per kilo basis.  Due to the potential for less leaching, slow-release P ticks environmental boxes as well as for pasture growth.

The Impact of Clover

Gordon talked about the importance of clover in terms of its quality as a high protein feed as well as the nitrogen fixing capacity of the plant. An Agresearch trial demonstrated that 10% clover dry matter – which visually looks more like 30% in a field – fixed 180kg of nitrogen per hectare per year.  Fixing nitrogen (with pink nodules on the roots) can be high as 34% protein which is an incredibly high value feed. This is almost double the protein value of rye grass at 19%.

In listening to Gordon, it felt like it really was the tip of the iceberg in terms of key take aways and he just picked on a few ‘low hanging fruit’.  His knowledge is immense and one gets the sense that he utilises his 35 years of experience with nuance for every farm conversation he has. There is certainly no one-size fits all approach with this gentleman.

It was a very pleasant morning at the Wairarapa Rural Women’s Initiative Discussion Group. Knowledge was shared and connections were made. What more could we ask for?

Get in touch with Gordon or Ray and take a new path to more profitable farming. If you would like to learn more about their pragmatic approaches to helping New Zealand farmers by testing, measuring, and optimising for your animal performance, they are ready to hear from you.

Nitrogen Reduction: Fortune Favours the Brave

By Animal Health, Customer Stories, Education, Field Outcomes, Productivity, Soil Health, Sustainability

Tony and Denise Zonneveld are milking 160 A2 Fresian cows off 55 hectares at Edendale in Southland. Contrary to the rest of the country, which has battled through an unusually wet winter, the Zonneveld’s have had a great winter, milking all the way through with plenty of grass to keep things ticking along.

Tony says that part of the reason they’ve been able to do this is his big focus on getting the roots of his pasture plants as deep as possible in the ground. “Getting this right gives a lot of resilience to the whole system under different climate conditions”.

I knew from decades of sharemilking using synthetic inputs, that you are always chasing grass growth and animal health problems.

Tony ZonneveldSouthland Dairy Farmer

It’s Biology At Work

“That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about utilising biology. I’ve found it’s all about getting the soil to do its own work by feeding it right. If we don’t look after it, it needs medication – just like the human body. If we do look after it, feed it right, we prevent having to treat issues, and that flows through to the stock too.”

The Zonneveld’s are natural innovators, and when they moved out of sharemilking and onto their own block in 2008, Tony saw an opportunity to do things differently. “I knew from decades of sharemilking using synthetic inputs, that you are always chasing grass growth and animal health problems.” He says they were always battling with cow herd health, particularly mastitis but other general ill health issues too.

“Our vet bills were horrendous – just always fighting animal health.” That is no longer the case. “I would say that now I have the lowest animal health expenditure in our vet club. And we get very low factor systemic cell counts in our milk without even trying – it’s just what we feed them. High quality nutrition.”

Tony believes one of the great things about Fish IT is the Omega oils. “You can just see the glossy pasture thriving.” He says they never top paddocks now because the grass utilisation is so good that the cows clean up the paddocks. “I can’t stop the cows eating it. Then three to four days after grazing the regrowth in the paddock is this fluorescent green colour – it’s beautiful to see!”.

Tony’s Toolkit

He also applies RPR and trace elements, basing it on the results of soil tests, and effluent over the whole milking platform. He’s been applying aglime as required but as a next step, and true to his innovative nature, is looking at using oyster shell lime from Bluff instead. He is adamant that anything from the sea is great for the soil. Tony keeps urea in his toolkit in case it is needed but says he doesn’t use it every year and is using less all the time as the biology of his soil gets better and better. “I won’t be using any this year.”

He also doesn’t feed any supplementary grain to his cattle. “I don’t’ need to,” Tony says. “We have averaged 1500-1600 kg milk solids per hectare over the last four years. Per cow it is 450-470. So we are easily competing with the grain fed guys on straight pasture and silage.” “I just think why not invest in your soil and grow quality grass.” They have had the nutrient density of their pasture measured and it came out at 7 compared to a normal average of around 4. “We’ve had scientists out here taking an interest in what we are doing and why our nutrient density is so good.”

We have averaged 1500-1600 kg milk solids per hectare over the last four years. Per cow it is 450-470. I just think why not invest in your soil and grow quality grass.”

Tony ZonneveldSouthland Dairy Farmer

Advice For Starting The Journey

We asked Tony what advice he would give to other farmers interested in trying a different programme and starting to incorporate biology in the toolkit. “I would say do a portion of the farm and you’ll see the difference. Changing the whole system can be quite daunting.” “I would also say get a support system around you to avoid too many mistakes. We always have a few mistakes when we try something new, but if you learn about the products and what combinations work for your situation, then you’ll get the maximum value for your spend.”
Tony says they are very happy with their current programme. “We are always looking for something extra but we are onto a really good recipe now.” “Other people are doing these programmes too and we are sharing the knowledge and getting the results. It makes farming easier and less stressful. You look out the window and you have got grass and content animals.”

Nitrogen Reduction – It’s Time To Change

In summing up Tony said that he believes biologics are the way to keep out of trouble for compliance in the changing farming environment. “We are better off to get off that mainstream track and try the biological system because we are going to be forced into it anyway with the high costs of traditional fertilisers and new compliance issues. But people need coaching. We need more consultants on the ground who know this stuff.”

“It’s time to change,” he says. “This is the opportunity for natural products to shine.”

Fish Hydrolysate: A Better Way To Grow

By Education, Field Outcomes, How To, Productivity, Soil Health, Sustainability, Trial Results

There’s a better, more efficient and cost-effective way to apply nitrogen to plants. Fish IT is a biological food source designed to stimulate soil life and supply nitrogen at the plants’ roots in a slow release as the plant requires it, without the waste associated with synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

Here at Fish IT we are getting an influx of enquiry from farmers unfamiliar with fish hydrolysate. We have seen a considerable increase in interest over the past twelve months driven by the price increases of traditional fertilisers, scarcity of supply, the nitrogen cap and an increasing desire to do better by the environment. We thought we would take the time answer a few questions about the role of biostimulants and fish hydrolysate in particular. To address the “what is it?”, “what does it do?”, “how can it benefit my farm?” questions, we spoke to Stan Winters and Rudi Woutersen. The underlying question is “can it help me reduce my fertiliser, particularly Nitrogen, usage? Before we dig into what they had to say, a quick primer on what biostimulants are.


Life below ground develops mainly in the rhizosphere, that is the area of the soil near the roots of the plants. Its composition is roots, fungus, microorganisms with various functions, nutrients organic substances, oxygen and water. In this area the interaction between soil microorganisms and plant roots occurs, creating an ecosystem conducive to plant development.

Agricultural biostimulants act on the plant’s natural biochemical processes that are of value to improve pasture growth, quality and productivity. Biostimulants are an important cornerstone to soil and pasture health, supported by the physical and chemical properties of the soil too.

The use of biostimulants in agriculture is almost as old as agriculture itself. Farmers have always tried to maximise plant growth by using natural products that help improve productivity. Traditionally, biostimulants such as manure, liquid waste or other extracts have been utilised.

Unlike fertilisers, biostimulants do not provide nutrients directly to the plant, but they facilitate the acquisition of nutrients by supporting metabolic processes in soil and consequently uptake of those nutrients through the plants.

Benefits of Biostimulants

The biostimulant developed by Fish IT offers multiple benefits:

  • Promote plant growth and vigour by optimising nutrient availability and uptake.
  • Complimentary to the use of fertilisers and generate co-action to promote effectiveness, optimising the supply of nutrients and water to the soil and plants.
  • The fish oils feed the fungus which improve soil fertility.
  • Increase pasture tolerance to abiotic stressors like flood and drought.
  • The plant produces more roots and maintains a greater absorption of nutrients and water on a continuous basis.

Agricultural practices and natural events can inadvertently strip soils of their healthy biology and this is where fish hydrolysate comes into its own. Harvesting, exposure to UV rays, floods, droughts, monoculture crops, sudden changes in PH, all contribute to decimate microbial concentrations in our soil. Amino acids in the form of fish hydrolysate can be part of the farmers weaponry to build it back up.

Stan WintersSoil Scientist

A soil scientist based in Southland with more than 40 years experience, Stan spent 26 years as a Fertiliser Chemist Technical Manager studying interactions between soil, climate, plants animals and fertiliser. For the past 25 years he has worked as an independent soil/fertility consultant. He really is the best one to answer “what is it?”. Stan has been working with the product for the last 6 years and knows it front to back. Stan’s scientific knowledge is extensive – so bear with us!

What is Hydrolysate?

Hydrolyzed protein is a solution derived from the hydrolysis of a protein into its component amino acids and peptides, which can then be more quickly and easily uptaken for subsequent utilisation. This process has been around for over a century and is commonly used in medicines, pet foods and even infant formula. Fish IT uses a hydrolysation process to break down waste salmon into peptides and amino acids by prolonged heating and the addition of food grade acids to keep it stable and contaminant free. It means we are recycling a waste protein into an applicant that is easily uptaken by microbes to improve biological activity and benefit soil health.

Fish Hydrolysate Properties

Fish proteins differ to other proteins in that they contain all 20 amino acids. The Fish IT product utilises the whole fish rather than the waste parts meaning the protein and oils from the flesh is incorporated. Because Salmon are not bottom feeders, they are less likely to take up contaminants and heavy metals than ocean floor scavengers.

How Does it Work?

Fish hydrolysate assists to optimise the natural processes within the soil. Plants are basically a factory taking CO2 from the air and converting it to oxygen and sugars. But they can’t do it on their own, they require assistance from bacteria and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi in the soil. Read more on biological nutrient availability here.

If microbes can’t access the food they require, fish hydrolysate can correct the balance of amino acids present, giving them a fighting chance to get the correct suite of amino acids that they need to make the proteins that the plants need to grow.

Everything needs to be balanced for the system to function optimally – nutrients need to be supplied in the right balance (NPK and trace elements), along with healthy soil structure. The three legs of the soil properties stool – physical, chemical and biological. So, while fish hydrolysate will almost always assist by boosting biological activity, it will rarely be the only input that a production system requires, which is why we work closely with partners who can advise farmers on their individual needs.

There has been a bit of a mindset in modern farming practices of increasing chemical inputs to rectify or mask production issues or imbalances in the system “put more on, it can’t do any harm”. However, we have got the point where we now know that actually, it is inadvertently doing harm. “Little and often with any inputs is always better – it will always do less damage to the microbial life in soil”.

My opinion is that as a nation we need to do major research into farming with less fertiliser while maintaining productivity levels. Other countries are forcing their farmers to farm with less. If we are proactive - we can be leaders in the field. We just have to learn how to do it well. Fish is absolutely a helpful tool in that regard.

Rudi WoutersenSoil Expert

We talked to Rudi Woutersen, owner of R&J AgriSpray about his experiences assisting farmers to reduce fertiliser use. He has seen great success stories over his 25 years in the industry.

Soil Health

Rudi says his approach to fish hydrolysate is to incorporate it into a total solution. Still utilising traditional fertilisers but with a plan in place to reduce over time. He says fish is a great start to working on soil health. He particularly recommends it in situations where there is soil compaction, a lack of clover and other signs of inactive soil biology.

Reduce N

“50% of fertiliser applied on any given day is lost and therefore unutilised and that’s why we need to work on soil health. Our philosophy with the tow and fert system is to use less nitrogen but apply it in smaller amounts more regularly. If we work on the whole system, get it optimised and in balance then I reckon we can make a massive impact on the leaching problems we have in New Zealand. When we boost the soil biology, really get that N fixing bacteria working, then we can start to reduce chemical applications quite comfortably.”

“Clients are generally fully aware of the new regulations coming in too – so we add fish to the mix and slowly reduce the N inputs, starting by 20% and then working our way up from there.” He says that it is not critical that the plant takes it through the leaf. Getting that fine particle application onto either the leaf or soil and evenly spread makes it easier for the bacteria to utilise it.


We asked him about his observations from clients who have been using fish in their systems. “Clover, clover, clover!” he remarks. “Also better pasture utilisation – the cows eat the paddocks out more evenly. And they are happier – less lameness. The reduction in nitrogen boosted pastures means they are eating a more nutritionally dense food, leading to overall health benefits.”

He points out that fish is not a silver bullet and there is always a balance. Fish should be used alongside other inputs and land management practices to get the system optimised. He says fish in conjunction with aerating can have a massive impact that will feed biology and add oxygen. He has also seen good results with humic acid and fulvic acid which gives better utilisation and uptake of NPK applications when applied together. “Carbon feeds bacteria and fish feeds fungi”.

Rudi mentioned that the use of whole salmon is what he believes makes Fish IT Refined a superior product. “Salmon aren’t bottom feeders, and a lot of meat goes into the product.”

How To Get Started

We find our customers fall into three camps when they start their journey toward using less synthetic fertiliser and ultimately lowering their input costs while maintaining or improving output.

The whole of farm approach is taken when the farmer has done enough research and taken appropriate advice to commence the transition with an ongoing test (soil and herbage), measure and adapt approach to ensure nutrients and trace minerals continue in the right quantities for production as the land transitions from topical synthetic nitrogen application to soil generated nitrogen.

The worst paddock approach is sometimes used to simply suck it and see. The idea being that nothing else has worked so I’ll make a small investment and get started. We’ve seen our customers turn their worst paddocks around using this method and in the process make the move to incorporate Fish IT into their entire platform.

The test and measure approach has a little more thinking behind it than the worst paddock. The idea here is to change one variable, potentially run multiple concentrations and take a measurement to determine impact. The graph below shows the outcome of 11 different farms and paddocks in Southland where a 300sqm block in the centre of the paddock was Fish IT applied (30L per hectare concentration in this instance) and dry matter was measured against a control of standard synthetic fertiliser application to the rest of the same paddock. The farmers measured an average of 612kg/ha of dry matter (55% increase) with Fish IT compared to the control.

Regardless of the approach, one thing our customers learn very quickly is that this is a journey and not a quick fix. It takes time to transition but with the right guidance in the form of a safe pair of hands: a mentor, a contractor, an agronomist or even sometimes simply being incredibly well read via google; they are able to make those steps forward with confidence and great results.

At Fish IT we have been busy establishing a network of partners on the north and south island to help our customers looking to make the move. We’d encourage you to give us a call on 0800 FISHIT or send us an email if you’d like us to provide you some independent guidance specific to your needs.


The Rising Cost of Farming – Considering your Options for Nutrient Management

By Education, Field Outcomes, How To, Management, Productivity, Soil Health

It’s no secret that costs are on the rise and certainly farming is no different.  The Economic Service Sheep and Beef On-Farm Inflation Report released by Beef and Lamb New Zealand last month shows on-farm inflation is at its highest level in almost 40 years.  Sheep and Beef farm input prices increased by 10.7 percent in the year to March 2022 and are continuing to rise.  However, although this is a tough time, it does present an opportunity, and the impetus, to review on-farm spending and start some serious consideration of options.

Price Pressure

The price of some fertiliser products has doubled over the last 2 years and fertiliser companies have signalled further increases to come, possibly another 25%.  Global volatility, supply issues and freight charges are all adding cost pressure.  Approximately 70% of the mix of products in fertiliser are imported with 30% locally manufactured, so New Zealand has little control over traditional fertiliser price volatility.

Work within your budget

Steve Haswell, of BioAg, has good advice on looking at options. “We’ve been advising and assisting farmers for 28 years now on optimising biological functionality of their soil. There are a few pre-conceived ideas out there about making changes from traditional methods – one is that it will be an additional cost, and another that you will experience a production dip.” “Our soil and fertility programmes have always cost generally less than mainstream fertiliser programmes, and that gap is getting wider now. It’s not about spending more of your money, it’s about optimising the effectiveness of what you are applying”. Steve says that the crucial role of the advisor in implementing a good agronomic programme is to make the transition seamless in terms of production. “There should be no loss in production, even short term. The change needs to enhance production”.

BioAg and Fish IT are embarking on a co-lab, partnering where applicable to work with mutual clients.  The aim is to pair expertise in nutrient management alongside a great product.  “I want to reassure people that our programmes don’t omit anything that is needed for production.” Steve emphasises. “Traditional minerals are never overlooked or ignored – they are still in the mix.  What we do is help make informed choices about the most effective form and rates for the specific farm scenario.”

Marshall Farm Approach

Georgie Galloway, Farm Manager on Marshall Farm, had just come in from shifting cows on a cold easterly day in Southland.  The cows wintering on the 140-hectare farm are well set up to cope through winter with daily shifts onto a back-fenced dry block each day, with a portable water trough.  “This means our soils suffer way less damage, as well as being easier on the animals, with no heavy pugging back and forth to a trough.”  It is just one example of the thoughtful operations at Marshall Farm.

Five years ago, the Marshall Farm invested in a Tow and Fert and changed their nutrient management plan accordingly to a system where they apply all their own applications – targeting a reduction in urea use by lifting the natural function in their soils with Fish IT.

The farm is a complex system incorporating wintering 1300 dairy cows, 2-3 cuts of bailage, rearing calves (with cows they milk specifically for that purpose) and trade stock.  Getting their nutrient management right is critical as they achieve all this on 70 ha of Kale and 70 ha of grass on a 3-year rotation.  The programme they are now following is working so well for them, it allows them to plan for repeatable application year on year with some variation depending on soil testing.

Nutrient Planning – the long and the short

We talked to Georgie about nutrient management and their journey improving the biological functionality of their soils.  Georgie, and farm owner Graham Marshall, are well along the path in considering their nutrient management in both long- and short-term respects.  “We’ve actually already purchased our fertiliser for the spring to try to beat some of the price hikes” she says.

“Everything has changed for us under our new system.  We now apply 3-4 times per annum using the Tow and Fert to liquidise as many products as possible but still apply Serpentine Super with our 1tonne Bulky.   Fish IT, a much-reduced amount of Urea and other inputs, that soil testing indicates are required, go through the Tow and Fert”. “When we apply liquid products, we can more or less apply half the rate compared to solid/granular fertiliser and get same results.” This year they are adding in Sulphur Gain to address low elemental sulphur levels.  They also aerate with their James aerator and apply MOP, Lime, and Boron.

The annual spend for the current fertiliser programme is $80,010 compared to $151,800 for the previous programme at today’s pricing.  Georgie says that the Kale crop is now so much more resilient that they have basically stopped using pesticides.

Less Inputs, Same Production

“We’ve been able to operate with minimal Urea for years now, and we have real confidence in our system.  Our grass structure has changed dramatically since starting out with fish – I would say almost 70% of the sword in our grass paddocks is clover.  And no bloat!  The worms in the soil are crazy.  Even under the Kale you can see the castings everywhere.  They help naturally aerate the soil and are adding to the nutrient balance.”  The Tow and Fert/Fish IT system has been a game changer for us in terms of maintaining production, enhancing animal health and at the same time actually driving input costs down.

Do Something Different

Steve from BioAg says that now is a great time to be planning nutrients for new season while the workload is somewhat quieter.  “Once we get into lambing and calving then it is a pretty hectic run right through until Christmas.  And with fertiliser prices going the way they are, it pays to think about possibly doing something different this year.”  Whether that be alternative products, applying less in total annually, but more often, or doing research into credible options.”  Just as the Marshall Farm has seen, he believes there is a huge opportunity to change from solid applications to liquid, and to be smart about application timing.  He recommends considering the whole holistic system when trying to optimise biological functions and manage nutrients – and that there is a variety of approaches that can be implemented, from a tweak to a whole system sea change.

The Fungi Highway

We got talking about bio-stimulants and he has some fascinating knowledge. “Fish nutrient products containing fatty acids are known to support mycorrhizal fungi, the main fungi associated with supporting plant and legumes to exchange nutrients and water.  The fungi provide the highway in the soil for nutrients to reach plants, particularly phosphorus and calcium and for the transportation of water.”  So, it makes sense that he believes bio-stimulants can be a game changer, and it certainly backs up Georgie’s experience at the Marshall Farm.

“Interest is coming slowly in the agricultural sector,” he says – “The early adopters are taking it up and the rest of the industry is coming along reluctantly as they start to hear about the results.  But he says that is it important that the starting point is a discussion with someone knowledgeable in biological functionality, because there is no “one size fits all”.

Incorporating bio-stimulants and fish nutrients provides food for the plant and soil biology to build biological function in the soil.  “We are only now starting to realise that the microbiome in the rhizosphere – basically the stomach of the plants – is as important as the microbiome in our human gut.  In fact, they parallel each other.  Under a microscope, microbiome of the soil, mammals and humans are almost indistinguishable.  They function the same way, and the level of diversity is the same.”

And just as gut health is gaining momentum, so too is soil health.

If any of this has piqued your interest in investigating options for spring please get in touch with the team at Fish IT.  We will be happy to direct you to an advisor who can work with you to look into your particular situation.

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.