NZ Dairy Autumn 2022

| 59 nzdairy Jenny Smith among a paddock of diverse grasses and herbs, essential for soil biology and plant health. DAIRY PEOPLE » Wilith Farm: Miah & Jenny Smith Rebuilding topsoil a journey of discovery Kelly Deeks South Waikato dairy farmers Miah and Jenny Smith have become environmentally friendly quite by accident, as they turned to regenerative farming in a bid to make some money off some degenerated post-forest soil. Originally from Taranaki, Miah and Jenny spent more than 15 years progressing their dairy careers from farm workers to lower order sharemilkers, working their way up various lower order positions from initially a 300 cow farm, to eventually a 1000 cow farm. In 2011, they were offered an opportunity by Jenny’s father and uncle to join an equity partnership, which purchased their current 260ha effective Atiamuri forestry conversion. This farm offered the partnership an opportunity to quickly add value by clearing the harvest residue slash piles from every paddock and regrass. “When we got here, there was very little topsoil because all the pine trees had been pretty harsh on the soil,” Miah says. “I put a lot of fertiliser on but we found it didn’t make too much difference, and after 10 days of dry, the grass would stop growing.” After about four years of doing the recommended thing of conventionally applying more fertiliser, Miah and Jenny dug a few holes and found three to four inches of root depth. “That told me straight away why the grass would stop growing when we got dry. All the fert levels were where they needed to be, but we seemed to be putting more on every year.” Miah wanted to build up the topsoil on the farm, but soon realised in 20 years of farming, no one had ever talked about biology or topsoil. “I was at a total loss. The first thing I did was I bought 3000 tonnes of compost and spread that over the whole farm. I thought that would become topsoil, but little did I know that’s not how to build topsoil.” When Miah’s friend invited him to join him at a talk by Dr Christine Jones about Agrisea, Miah was sceptical but thought he also had nothing to South Waikato dairy farmer Miah Smith and sons display a healthy crop. The milking herd grazing on thick pasture on the 260ha Atiamuri forestry conversion. lose. “When I got home and told Jenny, she said it sounds like you’ve joined a cult!” But she consented to a trial of Agrisea products, and the Smiths started using it on about 40ha with a conventional paddock right next door. “Within two years we had double the root depth in the Agrisea paddock, and in five years the pH has gone from 5.4 to 6.2, with no lime, just Agrisea product. We haven’t lost any of that phosphate we had put on, and we have a tonne of total phosphate per hectare in the top 5cm to 7cm of soil. There is plenty there, it’s just a matter of the biology pulling that out for the plant. The trial has been rolled out over the whole farm, reducing fertiliser and adding biology, then reducing a bit more and adding a bit more. Miah and Jenny have also started putting in seven or eight different species of grasses and herbs, the diversity helping to activate essential bacteria and fungi and keep the soil working more efficiently. Miah and Jenny have dropped their N use by 60%, and their animal health costs have dropped from $80 per cow to $27 per cow. “It’s more stress-free farming,” Miah says. “It’s a time saver, a stress saver, and a money saver. We still have problems of course, but now we have more tools to fix those problems.” Atiamuri Dion 027 2911 269 Hayden 027 277 8626 SPECIALISTS IN: Livestock Cartage • General Cartage • Excavator & Bulldozer Hire - Glass Silage - Maize Silage - Cereal Silage - Precision Planting - Maize & Fodder beet - Supply & deliver supplement - Direct Drilling - Round & Square - Hay & Silage - All Cultivation - Mulching - Animal Bedding 07 3331 506 - Andrew: 0274 909 417 - Clint: 0272 849 875 A.T. COOK CONTRACTING LTD For all your agricultural requirements