The pressure to take more care when preparing for winter grazing is on farmers nationwide, most notably in Southland and Otago.
To try and make it easier to avoid problems early, the primary industry groups have collaborated to produce a checklist for farmers, to help everyone work their way through what can always be a tricky season weather-wise. Federated Farmers members will find it on our website (www.fedfarm.org.nz – search ‘checklist’).
The checklist aims to draw farmers’ attention to key areas that they might be able to improve at this late stage in the season, and then provides a number of locations for additional guidance to prepare for the next.
As well as the checklist, the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries have put together advice for farmers, and the industry bodies DairyNZ and Beef & Lamb have produced similar tools, supported by other organizations including the Foundation for Arable Research, Deer Industry NZ, Fonterra and Feds.
“There’s not much excuse for not knowing about how to find out if you are doing it properly or not,” Federated Farmers water spokesperson Chris Allen says.
“The main thing is, it’s winter, so this is actually not the time to be planning for winter grazing.
“Much of the planning for winter grazing gets done months earlier than the first cold days in autumn, and this was one of the first challenges we’ve had to explain to government, both central and local, when we’ve been working with them on finding ways to do it better,” he says.
Chris and Federated Farmers Southland vice president Bernadette Hunt have spear-headed the Feds approach to consulting with the government on how best to improve winter grazing techniques nationwide.
“It’s taken a while for them to realize how much forward planning has to be done, to get the right crops growing in the right places, long, long before anything goes anywhere near those crops for a feed,” Chris says.
“And we aren’t just doing this to avoid seeing photos of cows in mud on the television news.
“This is really about looking at a practice that is essential for many farmers and is becoming commonplace across the country. We need to make sure we have good management practice techniques associated with it.
“It’s both environmental and animal welfare good practice, and if we do it right, there will be less reason to see more regulations imposed in future,” Chris says.
In Bernadette’s part of the world, farmers are well-prepared. A recent monitoring flight by Environment Southland to identify crops that may pose a risk to water during the winter period identified only six properties that needed attention.
Planning tools are now available from a variety of different sources. Along with the new guidance out from MPI and MfE, there are other industry templates from the levy groups and processors, and in some regions, templates from catchment groups.
“A winter grazing plan is supposed to fit in with whatever form of farm plan is already being used,” Bernadette says.
Start with a simple farm plan, and the first step is to highlight the paddocks you want to use for winter grazing. Then think about the water ways involved and where overland rain flows (your critical source areas) and providing stock shelter.
“The trick to preparing a plan is to write down somewhere what you want to do, and why. Have a look at the recommendations, consider the environment you are dealing with, and think about ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ and have a plan for that.
“Take some photos of what you are doing throughout the season so you can keep track of what you are doing. These will be handy for future planning too.”