A range of tools to support hill country farmers to become more productive and resilient will become available through the Hill Country Futures programme over the coming year.
These will include a simple model to help farmers forecast potential yields of lucerne for their properties, a national database of pasture growth data and a legume production map to help farmers assess the difference in productivity they could achieve by replacing resident pasture with improved pasture.
The five-year programme is co-funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, PGG Wrightson Seeds and Seed Force New Zealand.
It is focused on future proofing the profitability, sustainability and wellbeing of New Zealand’s hill country farmers, their farm systems, the environment and rural communities. It differs from most pastoral-based research in that it considers the whole-farm system and, critically, the wider communities these systems exist within.
It incorporates traditional science research, farmer knowledge and social research and has a strong emphasis on forages and providing decision-making tools to help farmers select the best forage option for different land management units.
Dr Mhairi Sutherland, Hill Country Futures programme manager, said the programme is focused on identifying a clear vision for a resilient hill country future and developing guidance for farmers on how to work towards this vision at a farm and/or catchment scale. This is based directly on in-depth interviews with almost 300 farmers and key stakeholders.
“We have already seen a number of exciting outcomes and that is only going to grow. We are focused firmly on getting this science directly to the farm audience – because science is not useful if it stays in a journal.”
The Hill Country Futures Partnership programme incorporates multiple research projects. These are led by different science teams but all are interconnected. The team includes scientists drawn from across a wide range of disciplines and from leading agriscience institutions.
“The programme is different to many previous research programme because it combine traditional scientific approaches with social science to clearly identifying the value, focus and drivers of farmer to understand and use that science to benefit their farm businesses,” says Mhairi.
“It makes it very tangible and real.”
One of the first outcomes is the national AgYields database, providing a readily accessible open database of pasture and crop yields throughout New Zealand. This was developed by a team led by Professor Derrick Moot, of Lincoln University who partnered with Dr David Chapman and Dr Wendy Griffiths of DairyNZ and Dr Mike Dodd of AgResearch.
Trial sites are also underway around native browse shrubs– to evaluate their potential to enhance diversity, improve water quality, support erosion prevention and provide an additional forage for hill country farms.
Another project being carried out is mapping of micro-indicators, such as soil temperature and moisture, in the hill country landscapes, with sensors installed across a number of trial sites. The goal is to help farmers quantify key soil and terrain features to enable robust decision-making around the most suitable locations and potential benefits of introducing forage legumes.
For more information, please visit: www.hillcountryfutures.co.nz