NZ Dairy Summer 2021

10 | nzdairy DAIRY PEOPLE » Plantation Road Dairy ‘Lightbulb moment’ Kevin Davidson isn’t sure why more New Zealand dairy farmers aren’t tuning into biological farming. Dianna Malcolm When conventional farming failed Central Hawke’s Bay dairy farmers Kevin and Linda Davidson they starting asking questions. It would bring Kevin to biological fertilisers, and a new way of thinking for their 1900-cow Plantation Road Dairy at Ongaonga, which produces 1 million kg of Milk Solids a year (and includes a winter contract). “I was under a conventional system in 2008 using over 300 units of Nitrogen, and harvesting 12,500 tonnes of grass,” Kevin said. “I used to do better than that without irrigation in the Waikato. “I started pulling the farm apart, and trying to find out why the best was the best, and the worst was the worst. And, I got invited to go and hear Dr Arden Anderson from the United States speak, the penny dropped, and I thought we’d give it a shot.” Dr Andersen consults in the field of sustainable agriculture and carries international credits for his influence in biological farming. “That combined with reading some papers put out by Dr Bert Quinn (Quinphos fertiliser) on how DAP (Diammonium phosphate, the world’s most widely used phosphorus fertiliser) or Urea (an inexpensive form of nitrogen fertilizer with a nitrogenphosphorus-potassium ratio of 46-0-0) slurries put on with helicopters worked more efficiently than standard granular fertilisers that made me think we could do it,” Kevin said. “So, I bought a truck and I dissolved the fertilisers with water, which isn’t too bad of a job if it’s on your own farm.” The results have been everything he hoped for on their property which includes the pasture species fescue, clover and some Plantain. “It was one of those lightbulb moments. We got a lot of things wrong, but I had some mates doing it too and we just kept comparing notes and pressing on until we got the equation a little bit better. “We now got our Nitrogen use down by half to a third of what we used to use and we’re harvesting over 15 tonnes of pasture – which is a 25-30% increase.” He said they used to have a Brix* level of 3-4. It is now 10-12 and above. It has lifted the sugars in their plants by 400%. “It’s more than just a biological fertiliser programme. Biological is about the nutrient density of food. So, I guess God gave us a sweet tooth to understand what’s good for us, and what is not. “Sweetness is a sign of nutrient density in grasses. If you’ve got something that tastes naturally sweet it will be high in nutrients. And, that translates into milk. “Because photosynthesis is about sugar production and no-one pays any attention to that. Our pastures are now more palatable, so we were able to lengthen rotations, and that’s when the harvest started coming.” They apply 11 fertiliser applications a year, following the cows as they graze. The property is irrigated to 94% by a centre pivot. They also use humic acid with their fertiliser, which helps hold nutrients in suspension in the soil. Trials by Southern Humate in New Zealand show a 63% reduction in leeching – achieved by increasing the ability of soil colloids to combine and by enhancing root system and plant development. When it comes to animal health, Kevin says they also use Acid Buf in their Partial Mixed Ration. It is a rumen buffer made from calcareous marine algae. Its natural honeycomb structure breaks down slowly in the rumen giving twice the buffering capacity of sodium bicarbonate – even when fed at much lower concentrations. “Our vet bill is definitely less. But, I’d say our animal health bill no less because we spend money on mineral supplementation,” Kevin said. He says he has no idea why the rest of the industry isn’t more engaged in this subject. “It’s no different to what they are doing on the other side of the world, but for some reason conventional farmers here don’t seem interested in participating in it. I’ve been vocal about it for some years now, and they know me, but they won’t engage for some reason. “We were all reading cow dung and cow cudding counts in the 1800s, and then we got smart and could do blood tests and we forgot about that. I’ve learned a lot by choosing to farm this way and it’s helped our cattle health enormously.” The Fonterra suppliers also send a portion of their milk (for a significantly higher price) to the award-winning Origin Earth boutique dairy company at Havelock North. And, there is no hope of them getting lost in the herd there. All of the Origin Earth products are crafted from single farm origin milk from farms within an hour of its factory. It means that the milk for any one batch of milk, yoghurt or cheese comes from a single farm. • A Brix value, expressed as degrees Brix (°Bx), is the number of grams of sucrose present per 100 grams of liquid. For most plants, the rule of thumb is that a value of 10 or lower may point to a nutrient deficiency. A Brix value of 12 or higher indicates a healthy plant. 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