Resilient forages for the future

Hill country farmers farm diverse hill country landscapes across New Zealand. A key aspect of successful hill country livestock production is resilient forage systems. Selecting forage species (plants) that meet several criteria from ease of establishment to achieving animal production goals and tackling environmental challenges is crucial.

Farmers need evidence that gives them confidence to utilise different forages adaptable to different farm systems and environments. These include data from field trials, case studies and modelling to inform decisions about what to plant and how to manage it, to help create a resilient hill country farming future.


To help achieve these goals, the ‘Resilient Forages’ component of HCF had several aims:

  • Identification and collation of pasture/crop yield data and growth rate information.

  • Evaluation and/or development of models to inform forage selection or predict legume yield for different land management units across New Zealand at farm and national scales.

  • Consider the feasibility and investigate mātauranga (Māori knowledge) of using native shrubs as forage.

  • Consider the feasibility of adapting the DairyNZ Forage Value Index (FVI) to sheep and beef farms was assessed using a case study approach.

What we achieved

Collected data from a number of forage trials around the country. Data on the growth profiles of a range of forages (e.g red, white, and subterranean clover, lucerne, plantain, chicory) were collected from 12 research and commercial farms across New Zealand, including monocultures, mixtures and resident pastures. Keen to know more?

Contributed to the AgYields national database. AgYields is a centralised repository for pasture and crop yield data, and growth rate information collected in New Zealand. It ensures valuable data is not lost, is readily accessible, minimises duplication of field trials and enables analysis of regional and national data more easily. Keen to know more?

Developed two models with contrasting complexity to simulate lucerne (Medicago sativa) yields across New Zealand. 20 years of lucerne, and soil and water data from Lincoln University were used in the development of these models.

  • The TGM (Thermal-Time-Based-Model) model was designed to target a farmer or farm-consultancy end-user interested in estimating local lucerne yields.

  • The APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator) — a process-based model — was designed to target researchers as end-users to develop a mechanistic tool that can be used to explain climate and land use changes on forage production and environmental impacts.

Established a wireless sensor network that enabled some of the first daily farm scale mapping of soil properties in NZ hill country. Daily maps of soil properties were produced at a grid resolution of 30 m, showing that soil temperature and moisture can be mapped at the farm scale in New Zealand hill country. These maps can be used to drive forage yield models and help inform decision-making on pasture management. Keen to know more?

Increased understanding of the potential for native shrubs as an alternative forage. Pilot trials were established in the Manawatu and Mahia to evaluate several different aspects of native shrubs including establishment, growth and forage value; metabolisable energy content and digestibility analysis of the foliage; feed preference in sheep and economics of planting natives based on modelling. Keen to know?

Gained insights into the traditional knowledge (mātauranga) of native shrubs. Kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (face -to-face) wānanga and interviews were held in the Wairoa District. This was part of a holistic approach to evaluate the potential of native shrubs as an alternative forage and for kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the hill country. Keen to know more?

Evaluated the feasibility of adapting the DairyNZ Forage Value Index (FVI) to sheep and beef farms. This was achieved using a case study approach.

Created numerous tools and resources to support farms with decision making on forage selection. These tool and resources include the Soil and Fertiliser fact sheet series, Lucerne at Willesden video series, ForageMaster app and more. These can be found and accessed by anyone on the Hill Country Futures tools and resources page. Keen to know more?


Lead researchers:

Professor Derrick Moot (Lincoln University)

Dr Cameron Ludemann (Cameron Ludemann Consulting)

Dr Nathan Odgers (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research)

Dr James Millner (Massey University)