Accelerating Change

Newsletter 1 - August 2015

What is Accelerating Change?

Accelerating Change, a Murray Dairy initiative, is a three-year project that aims to assist farmers increase their home grown feed production. This is being undertaken by concentrating on improving efficiencies in pasture and irrigation management to reduce seasonal feed deficits and to increase overall farm profitability.
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First Performance Innovation Team (PIT) meetings held

Farmers attending the first meetings for the innovative Accelerating Change program are positive about their involvement and the benefits it will bring to their own farms.

Project Manager Amy Fay said the project is showcasing how leading farmers are using the latest research and technology to grow feed.

To do this, two partner farms – one owned by the Humphris family and the other by the Stewart family with their share-farmers the Matthews family – have started working with a team of farmers, researchers, consultants and service providers to achieve gains in irrigation and pasture efficiency by adopting leading research and technology on farm. The project is looking to a range of sources who are doing exciting things in the irrigation and pasture space, both regionally, interstate and in different sectors.

The farmers recently met with their performance innovation teams (PIT), which comprise farmers from 15 farms.

The PITs are providing feedback on how the partner farms are utilising the research and technology, as well as gaining access to expert information and advice they can apply to their own farms.The PIT farms will also begin to road-test aspects of the research and technology in their businesses.

The partner farms and the PITs are made up of leading farmers both in the management of their businesses but also in their roles in the dairy industry and their communities and a key aspect of this project is communicating project outcomes to a broad audience through farmer networks. The partner farms will also be hosting regular open days to showcase to the public what activities have been occurring on farm.

Ms Fay said the farmers were keen to learn from a range of people including other farmers, researchers and the commercial sector to adopt new practices to accelerate the rate of uptake of practices and technologies that will shape the future of successful businesses.

In development! Monitoring and measurement strategy

A key component of the project is the close monitoring and data collection of existing farm performance, definition of business goals relating to these areas and development of strategies to meet these goals in conjunction with specialised advice, leading research and access to the latest technology.

The on farm activities that are underway or are being developed to achieve these include:

  • In depth analysing of current farming system and future options;
  • Monitoring of pasture and crop growth;
  • Monitoring of water use; and
  • Measuring and monitoring of other factors that drive profitability on farm, for example business management, animal management etc.

The parameters and methodology to undertake this measurement on farm are being developed with our key project partner the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. Sign up to make you sure you get our next newsletter with more information.

The Humphris farm

Tim and Lyndal Humphris milk 325 cows on 150ha at Tongala.

The farm is an excellent example of a low cost, efficient and well laid out conventional gravity system with padman outlets.

This system is applicable to many dairy farmers in the region. The Humphris' have a strong interest in innovation and technology and have begun to use soil moisture probes to improve irrigation management over perennial pastures and maize to increase water use efficiency as well as overall total feed production. The Humphris' are increasing their use of soil moisture probes and installing automation over part of their irrigation base to drive the efficiency and profitability of their system.

Both Tim and Lyndal are closely engaged in the dairy industry as well as their local community. Lyndal is a Fairley scholarship recipient, member of the Murray Dairy Regional Extension and Education Committee (REEC) and has been a committee member of a number of local sporting and school committees. Tim is a former veterinarian, a Breed Society task force member for Herd Improvement Industry Strategic Steering Group and chair of the technical and interbreed committee of the Australian Red Dairy Breed. The Humphris' have contributed to many research and extension projects in the region in the past and are involved in the Goulburn Dairy Business Discussion Group.

About the farm

The farm was purchased in 2008.

The soil types on the farm include Wanalta Loam, Wana Loam, Alta Clay Loam and Carag Clay and is considered to be well drained.

The farm has 264.3 ML HRWS and 187.7 ML LRWS. The AUL of the property is 1318 ML.

The farm is irrigated via Goulburn Murray Water’s gravity supply system and is situated on a backbone.

The dairy is a 44 stand rotary dairy, which normally milks 260 cows/hour with two operators.

Other infrastructure includes two houses, a winter standoff feed area for 400 cows, a calf shed for 100 calves, and a 24 metre machinery shed.

The irrigation layout consists of a conventional gravity system with padman outlets that has all been developed over the past 20 years, delivering 12 MGL/day to 60 metre bays.

For the 2014-15 season the fodder production platform consisted of:

  • 70ha of ryegrass based perennial pasture

  • 38ha of annual pasture

  • 10ha of maize sown on the annual base

For the 2015-16 season the fodder production platform will consist of:

  • 70ha of ryegrass based perennial pasture

  • 11ha of fescue based perennial pasture

  • 17ha of annual pasture

In the 2014-15 season the farm milked an average of 325 cows and peaked at 335 cows during spring 2014.

The herd size for 2015-16 will be similar.

Why they are involved

Tim and Lyndal Humphris are big supporters of developing the Murray dairy region and see Accelerating Change as a significant opportunity to not only achieve a faster rate of adoption of new technology and research on their own farm but also in the broader industry. The data collected through the project's monitoring and measurement strategy as well as access to a range of ideas and expertise is critical to improved outcomes of the Humphris farm as well as assisting practice change in their PIT and the wider industry. They have a number of aims or goals that they want to achieve by being a partner farm, including continuing to be a profitable dairy business and looking for opportunities to increase their profit markets.

The couple is also keen to maximise the opportunities to increase Home Grown Feed and to maintain their variable cost of HGF so that it is no more than 50 per cent of the cost of purchased lucerne hay.

What the farm meeting covered

The farmers who attended the Humphris' farm for the first farm visit believed it had a good overall layout.

It was explained that moisture probes had been installed last season and had proved effective for the maize crop but the Humphris' were less certain about benefits in perennial pasture.

They said that historically, there had been a perennial pasture and annual pasture base but poor yields over summer were encouraging movement to lucerne and fescue.

There was subsequent discussion around improved irrigation and drainage, particularly with the addition of spinner cuts.

It was also recommended that some poorer performing perennial pasture be converted to lucerne.

The farmers discussed the potential of an investment in irrigation automation. Significant discussion ensued in relation to the production benefits (considered small on the perennial pasture given the good layout and good management, but possibly more on irrigated lucerne) and the lifestyle benefits (considered large).

It was also suggested that an investment in feed troughs would help to minimise wastage.

As a result of the meetings, spinner cuts will be implemented in some perennial pasture bays and a section of perennial pasture will be sprayed out in late spring/summer and converted to lucerne.

The farmers also suggested that there be some measurement around actual pasture growth to compare the growth of fescue over summer compared to classic perennial pasture was necessary.

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My lucerne grows this high!

The Stewart farm

Don and Meg Stewart operate three properties and along with share-farmers Kelvin and Shelley Matthews are participating in Accelerating Change primarily on their Yarrawalla property which totals 242ha and milks 600 cows.

The majority of this property has been upgraded to a pipe and riser system with full automation.

Their farm is an excellent example of a modernised system that has already incorporated the latest technology on farm, which many farmers in the region would aim for.

The Stewarts and Matthews' are expanding their use of soil moisture probes and more closely aligning individual paddock growth and utilisation with irrigation and other input application to drive efficiency and profitability.

The success of the Stewarts and the Matthews’ share-farming arrangement, leading to clear dual benefits for both parties, is a leading example to the industry.

Don and Meg are well established in the dairy industry and local community, hosting and participating in many past research and extension projects as well as sitting on sporting and school committees. Kelvin and Shelley are rising people in dairy industry and aim to not only succession to full ownership of their own property but also become industry leaders.

About the farm

The farm was purchased in 2011. The share-farming arrangement began in 2013.

The share-farming arrangement currently stipulates that Don and Meg supply 2ML of water per cow each season (around 1200ML last season) and then any additional water needed is purchased on the temporary market. The farm used 1686ML last season.

The farm is irrigated via Goulburn-Murray Water’s gravity supply system. The water is pumped directly out of the G-MW supply channel into the pipes and risers.

The dairy is a 50 stand rotary dairy. There is rock based feed pad that is used to feed silage on.

Most of the property has recently had a new irrigation system installed which consists of a new pipe and riser system controlled using farm connect (Rubicon) and a moisture probe which comfortably delivers 16ML/day to most bays.

There is adequate plant and equipment to operate the dairy business which includes a silage wagon.

For the 2014-15 season the fodder production platform consisted of around:

  • 67ha of ryegrass based perennial pasture

  • 83ha of annual pasture

  • 50ha of Lucerne

For the 2015-16 season the fodder production platform will consist of:

  • 67ha of ryegrass based perennial pasture

  • 67ha of Lucerne

  • 67ha of annual pasture

Why they are involved

The partners see the project as a opportunity to access new research, innovation and expertise to drive performance of an already efficient system. Both the Stewarts and the Matthews see on farm performance data collection as key mechanism to groundtruth existing practices and assist in the implementation of new ones. This will benefit their own operation as well as accelerate the rate of adoption of new practices for their PIT members and the broader industry.

The Stewarts and the Matthews had a number of goals they are seeking input from the PIT team on. These include being able to determine what is the best mix of pasture species to grow on the farm for the most consistent supply of directly grazed feed that matches the pasture growth rate with the cows’ feed demand while not increasing costs or reducing the total amount of dry matter grown (of similar quality).

They also hope the program will help them determine when is the most economical time to stop watering perennial ryegrass in the summer by measuring growth rates versus water use.

They also wish to measure the growth rates of each species and quality at different times of year and annually to determine the economics of each species.

Their goal is also to install more moisture probes so that each species has its own probe to identify what is the best moisture refill point to use to base irrigation frequency off.

Another goal is to find out whether the use of nitrogen in spring is economical when allowing for costs such as conservation, wastage, extra nutrient removal and soil acidification.

Their final goal is to explore different pasture measuring technology that could be used on farm to help work out how much grass is available to graze to help with pasture allocation and supplement feeding decision. This technology would need to not put a too bigger time burden on the farm if it is likely to be adopted.

What the farm meeting covered

Those who attended the initial farm meeting believe it had been well set up. They were told about issues which were being experienced with the measurement being taken by G-MW to establish farm water use. Currently the pump is sucking the water straight out of the supply channel and through the G-MW meter. It was suggested said that the meter should be on the other side of the pump.

As the share-farming arrangement currently states that Don and Meg supply 2ML of water per milking cow each year, this raised some discussion in regards to the maximum cow numbers and whether they should be capped. Also discussed was what would happen in years that it was deemed not economical to use water.

Another two moisture probes will be installed later in the year with one of them being in a bay with lucerne in it.

Some discussions on the frequency of crop rotations were had, however the Stewarts are confident that the timings they are using are working for them.

Discussion was had around measuring pasture. It was agreed that measuring the costs of the tonnes of dry matter grown would provide valuable insights into the farm’s operations. This and other goals discussed have been fed into the development of the monitoring and measurement strategy.