The role of rural contractors in improving pasture productivity
12 August 2011
By Warwick Green, Seed Force
In New Zealand we rely on fodder systems to drive our animal production yet currently only around four percent of available land is re-sown annually.
Today the seed industry provides a strong pipeline of new plant genetics and associated technologies that enable farmers to improve their productivity. Indeed, the top 15 percent of farmers readily adopt this technology but a big majority lag behind.
The seed industry can demonstrate the benefits of new pasture varieties but getting growers to take it up is a challenge. We believe well-informed contractors and an active rural contractors’ federation have important roles to play in changing mind sets at the grassroots.
It requires at least 10 years to breed, develop, and test a new pasture variety. To actually commercialise a new variety it must offer identifiable improvements to existing products.
New genetics can certainly deliver value for money if they are developed and used right. The challenge is to get farmers to adopt the new varieties and manage them within their farm system to maximise their potential.
Today we have a full arsenal of technology that can improve the productivity of farms. We have advanced cultivation equipment and an array of seeding implements including air seeders and direct drills as well as conventional and broadcast units. We have herbicides; Roundup in particular has been revolutionary.
We have the pasture seed, though it is important to remember seed is a living organism. We also have endophytes that need care. And we have many specialist crops that can complement pasture: clovers, chicory, and plantain as well as different grass species.
At the grassroots today the level of knowledge is not high across all parts of the chain. Farmers’ primary focus is generally on their animals and only secondarily on their pasture.
In some regions farmers face physical, climatic and agronomic constraints and their expectations vary. Often they do limited cost benefit analysis so they make their decisions on the price of the seed.
When they do move to establish new pasture attention to detail is not has high as it should be. Generally attention to detail is highest in Canterbury where there is a better understanding of the principles of establishment because of the strong focus on arable crops.
The role of rural contractors
Today contractors plant the majority of pastures and crops. Many rural contractors are actually more familiar with the farms they work on than the farmer themselves. Many farmers rely on their contractor to do the complete job – from planning, to ordering to planting.
But the level of knowledge among rural contractors varies, and they must make decisions based on what their clients expect. Often the farmer is most concerned about cost and the timeframe. In the worst case scenario, they give little notice and want the job done yesterday. Then, if things go wrong, it is often the seed that gets the blame.
To improve the situation we should have cross-industry interaction. The seed industry should acknowledge the role rural contractors play now and will play in the future.
Today Seed Force is working closely with rural contractors in the central and southern South Island to develop specific crop technologies, namely fodder beet. This has been very successful and we feel this could be a blueprint to take across other crops and regions.
Seed Forced is a member of Rural Contractors NZ and we want to build a technological transfer partnership whereby Rural Contractors NZ members get advanced information on new varieties and technologies as they are tested and commercialised.
We also intend to hold joint field days regionally to demonstrate new pastoral technologies. This will help us grow Rural Contractors NZ members’ knowledge of pasture.
The aims are to boost farmers’ confidence in replanting and re-pasturing, create more business opportunities for rural contractors, and underpin our own continued investment in new genetics and technologies. If we improve New Zealand’s pastoral agriculture productivity, we all prosper.