The consensus of 15 UK farmers who visited New Zealand late last year was there were three things which make the ‘Kiwis’ such a successful farming nation.
The consensus of 15 UK farmers who visited New Zealand late last year was there were three things which make the ‘Kiwis’ such a successful farming nation – their ‘just get stuff done’ mentality, a complete focus on the markets they supply and their no-nonsense approach of not planting a crop, nor rearing an animal, unless there is profit to be made.
The group visited 12 farms on the North and South Islands as part of a fully-funded study tour with BASF. Each of them secured their place after being drawn out of the hat having scanned their cans of Adexar (epoxiconazole+fluxapyroxad) and Librax (fluxapyroxad+metconazole) cereal fungicide last spring. As part of the trip, the growers also saw field trials of BASF’s new cereal fungicide, Revysol.
Colin Mountford-Smith, one of the BASF team on the trip, says: “Agriculture and horticulture are the biggest contributors to the New Zealand economy and because the sector has been unsupported since subsidies were abolished in 1984, its primary producers are dependent on export markets.
“Therefore, all their produce is grown to international specifications, including the likes of Leaf Marque and Nature’s Choice, because farmers need to comply to supply.
“Many of the farmers we met said they were constantly looking at UK legislation, for example on maximum residue levels and active ingredient revocations, as they know they too will have to respond to the same challenges at some point.”
One series of visits which impressed the UK group was to five arable farmers in South-East Otago and Southland, including two wheat-growing record-holders, Mike Solari and Eric Watson.
UK grower, Richard Cockcroft, a BASF Real Results participant, farms 810 hectares of arable, beef and sheep with his brother near Berwick-upon-Tweed.
He says: “New Zealand’s cereal yields are higher than those in the UK due to the wetter, warmer climate and their volcanic soils, but despite the climatic differences to here, there is real potential for UK growers to increase cereal yields based on what we saw and heard there.
“Most of the farmers we saw were budgeting on 14t/ha yields. I think there are some scenarios where we could push our crops more, maybe with more nitrogen and fungicides, as well as lower seed rates.”
Wheat seed rates being sown by the five farmers ranged from 45-85kg/ha. Nitrogen applications were much higher because applications are not restricted as they are in the UK and farmers routinely apply five cereal fungicide sprays. Livestock are also regularly seen in the arable rotation.
Simon Lord also travelled to New Zealand. He farms 800ha of arable and 900 breeding ewes in Lincolnshire with his brother.
He says: “Mike Solari has a nine-year rotation including three years in a grass ley which he believes allows him to produce record-breaking yields. Growers want to keep their crop in the ground for as long as possible, with one saying that for wheat crop with potential, he tries to give it a birthday in the ground.”
Based on what he saw, Mr Lord wants to try some different approaches.
“This season I plan to try and keep a field of wheat as green as possible until the end of August, rather than just at the start, to get a longer grain fill.”
Ollie Blackburn is a young, progressive farm manager for Dillington Estate which extends to 800ha of land growing combinable crops, potatoes and forage crops for a 350-cow dairy herd.
“The farmers all have a relaxed attitude and are confident in their land and its capabilities and they spoke with ease about what they were doing.”
He adds the Kiwis also understand their markets really well.
“I don’t think we in the UK always fully understand who we’re producing for, nor what they want. We need to focus more on whom we supply.
“It made me think that we will have to look more at alternatives for our combinable crops, as they may not be so competitive post-Brexit if we have lots of cheap imports. We will also have to make more of our domestic markets. This year I am going to run some experiments with lower seed rates and see what happens.”
BASF will be working with the farmers to trial some of the learnings from the New Zealanders over the coming seasons.
BASF agronomy manager Robin Rose, assesses New Zealand’s high input, high output cereal growing.
New Zealand grows a little more than 40,000 hectares of wheat and barley, most of it sold into local micro-markets to feed dairy cows. Parts of Southland and Otago, on the South Island, have seen a resurgence in arable in recent years because of the local grain market, which has grown since the 2000s as a result of dairy farmers relocating for cheaper land from the Waikato on the North Island.
Mike Solari (pictured) is one of the famous farmers in this region. He took the world wheat yield title in 2007 with a crop of Savannah yielding 16.79 tonnes/ha.
His crops continue to yield 14-16t/ha and he budgets for 14t/ha every year. His inputs are high, both in terms of fungicides and fertiliser, but his seed rate is low at 85kg/ha. Soil fertility is at the front of his mind and he operates a nine-year rotation, including three years in grass and sheep grazing.
Craig Whiteside farms at Ashley Downs in Otago. He has a simple, high input and high output system, with some fields routinely yielding 15t/ha of wheat per year.
He doesn’t own a drill, instead broadcasting his seed from a fertiliser spreader and burying it using a cultipress. He aims to establish 800 heads/sq.m. His approach is high input, with his aim being to get as much from the varieties and soil as possible.
His philosophy is to sell NZ$0.20/kg of dry matter from any of his cropped land, whether that’s wholecrop silage to local dairy farmers, wheat or barley grain and straw. This year he is trialling forage maize using the Samco film system. Maize this far south is touch and go although he says there is already a lot of interest from local dairy farmers.
Mr Whiteside is also trialing Revysol and describes the active as a ‘game changer’ for New Zealand’s arable farmers for the control of septoria in wheat and ramularia in barley.