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Natural Nutrient Rich Inputs

Tony Zonneveld - Farming with the biology on the farm.

A Thriving Farm from the Sea.

Tony Zonneveld shares his secrets for 'easy, stressless' farming.

Focusing on soil biology has led Tony Zonneveld down a path to easy, stressless farming. It is a methodology he believes many more farmers can adopt.

Tony Zonneveld has always had a view on doing things differently. Circumstances and positions meant that for much of his dairy farming career he’s had to work within the constraints of those circumstances and positions.

However in 2008 he had the opportunity to purchase a dairy block in Edendale, Southland. He originally used this block to raise his young stock whilst he sharemilked on the other farm. Tony had begun to recognise that he simply wasn’t producing the grass he wanted or needed from the soil on the farm and the inputs he was putting on.

Tony says,

“I had to find other ways but I couldn’t do it whilst I was sharemilking because I was working under the control of a farm owner. If he wasn’t with me then we are not in the same line.”

Farm Health Front and Centre

With the Edendale block raising young stock Tony saw his opportunity to dairy farm the way he wanted to farm – in a far more natural and holistic way. In 2015 he converted to a dairy farm using only natural products as fertilisers.

“It all comes down to the health of the animals and our own health. But we forget about the health of the soil.”

Tony says this has led him down a path of using products produced from the sea. These include seaweeds, oyster shell lime, sea water and of course fish hydrolysate.

“I’d always wanted a good quality fish and when I heard about Fish IT made from Whole Salmon I had to investigate. I purchased a couple of tubs and applied it and straight away I could see the difference in the pasture. My clover heads enlarged, so they were able to bring more nitrogen to the soil. The gloss, the healthier rye grasses, everything became really palatable for the animals. Everything was consumed because it just tastes beautiful.”

In addition Tony began to notice that the health of his herd improved to the point now, 8 years later he simply does not have many animal health issues at all.

An advocate for using products derived from the sea, Tony has built a system that requires minimal inputs yet high production.

“It all comes down to the health of the animals and our own health. But we forget about the health of the soil.”

In episode two Tony talks about the products he uses and why they are so important to farm, animal and human health.

“If the soil is healthy, the grass is healthy.”

For Tony now the farm has built up a reserve of nutrients and is operating efficiently allowing him to drastically reduce his inputs. As he puts it, he is simply on maintenance applications now to keep things ticking along.

“Where the grass gets grazed it recovers rapidly. It does depend on your light and the temperature of the day, but it just keeps coming back.”

Healthy, fertile soil, lots of worms and strong root depth.

The beauty for Tony is that it makes farming stress free. It is enjoyable for him.

“And that is what farming is all about, it’s enjoyable, it’s easy!”

Tony keeps his rotations long enabling the plants to really develop strong and deep root systems before they are grazed again. He is also not concerned about going above the 3000 cover level because the pasture does not go to seed head so rapidly. Yet, if he has more pasture than he can manage he simply makes it into balayage.

Tony's soil is friable, healthy with long roots on the plants and lots of worms.

Worms, soil biology and healthy soil. A simple equation.

A walk into the paddock to dig a hole shows just how deep, rich and glossy his pasture is. It flickers in the sunlight as he pulls up a square of pasture and soil.

The soil under the pasture is rich and the worm count is high with a clearly visible presence of Mycorrhizal fungi and biology. Plant roots are long, reaching at least 15cms into the ground enabling the plant to be fed from nutrients deep in the ground.

Tony says “Your soil will do the job for you, you just have to feed it right. Give it time and don’t rush.”

And his advice to farmers interested in changing to a more natural system?

Tony says, “Small steps, feel your way, see what you can afford and where your resources are. If you are used to using Urea, just wind it down, because it takes time to come off it and you have to grow with it.”

“Farming like this takes time. My starting point would be with the Fish because it is a quality fish. It’s the whole fish. Then add other products around that.”

Tony's paddocks are full of lush, deep green, nutrient dense pasture.

“It’s about getting that biology right.” Then, Tony points out, the soil biology will do the work for you.

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