Theme Three

Theme 3: Biodiversity in forage landscapes

There are four parts to this research area.

1: National database of pasture production

What are we doing for farmers?

The purpose of this research area, led by Derrick Moot (Lincoln University), is to develop a framework to create a national database for New Zealand forage data. Robust datasets are needed to estimate quantitative values for the growth of different forages in different locations to inform modelling and decision making. Currently, there is no common repository of databases of forage growth data from different locations, so screening of the literature (and other potential repositories, e.g. commercial organisations) is required to determine what is available and useful.

High quality datasets are needed to generate simple algorithms to enable forage production to be modelled on farm in, e.g. forage forecasters and Farmax type pasture management models. Also, high quality datasets are needed to generate simple algorithms to develop a legume map based on climate data by Landcare. Therefore, a central repository of data that can be used for pasture and forage modelling is needed. This information can then be used to inform farmers of previous work that has occurred to help inform on-farm decisions of "which legume where"?

Ongoing and planned research:

Data will continue to be extracted from publications and available (historical and current) datasets to incorporate into the new database, now called the AgYields national database.

  • Screening of datasets of forage dry matter (DM) yield data from different publications is ongoing.  Approximately 20,000 data points from 20 species have already been extracted (1970-2021); 3,220 red clover data points and 4,100 data points from plantain.
    • There is a backward compatibility requirement to enable these data points to be easily uploaded into the new database. The deployment of the database will occur at the NZGA conference in November 2021. Ongoing funding is being sought to maintain a moderator in the role to oversee data entry and extraction.
  • The first version of the database is expected to be available to users in May 2021. Further development work will be undertaken based on feedback from users and the availability of funds to undertake the programming work.
  • A management map for sub clover will be published, including national guidelines on expected dates of first grazing, flowering, and closing for seed set.


2: Legume map

What are we doing for farmers?

The purpose of this research area, led by Derrick Moot (Lincoln University), is to inform decision-making on-farm by alerting farmers to their options and the risks associated with using different pasture species. Legumes have long been recognised for their nitrogen-fixing ability, and this feature will only become more valuable in the future.

The question for farmers is, "which legume where?". This simple question has many answers because of New Zealand's diverse landscapes, climatic conditions, and farm systems. Even within a single farm, cultivatable vs non-cultivatable land, different topography and climatic variation add further layers of complexity. The development of a legume map will enable farmers to match their property’s different land management units with the appropriate legume. This work will also complement the national forage database being developed in this programme by providing legume production curves for different regions.

Ongoing and planned research:

  • Data collections will continue for one more season on the 3 intensively monitored farms and at Lincoln. Data collection has ceased at Ashley Dene, Pemberly farm, Bog Roy and Mt. Grand.
  • At least three peer-reviewed scientific papers will be submitted on results from monocultures, mixtures and nitrogen effects.
  • Response of red clover to temperature and moisture will be summarised to match with the lucerne data.


3: Native plants

What are we doing for farmers?

The purpose of this research aim, led by James Millner (Massey University), is to evaluate native browse shrubs on sheep/beef hill country farms. There is the potential for hill country properties with pockets of unproductive, problematic land to establish native shrubs for soil conservation, habitat enhancement, riparian management and aesthetic value and cultural reasons.

Currently, however, the cost of establishing native shrub species is high in comparison to the non-native tree options. The potential benefits and costs of browsing native shrubs and how to optimally manage them is unknown. These shrubs can provide environmental benefits ranging from erosion control and improved water quality to increased native biodiversity. Still, they may also be able to provide direct financial benefits by providing forage for farm animals, carbon credits and potentially, a source of nectar for honey bees.

The inclusion of native species in this work programme is also part of the kaitiakitanga of the hill country landscape. Maunga are ancestral hill and mountain landmarks of immense cultural significance to contemporary Māori society at individual, whānau, hapū and iwi levels. Over 70% of Māori titled land is in hill country farming. Government policy recognises that Māori have kaitiakitanga interests in native plant species and Māori traditional knowledge. Therefore, as part of this work, research methodology and interpretation of results will be inclusive of a kaupapa Māori approach. A basis of the study is the mātauranga embedded in the Māori names of the native plant species in this research.  As a community of interest, Māori will be engaged “kanohi-ki-te-kanohi, face -to-face” in the research process. The overall expected research outcome of this work is to achieve an integrated view on native shrubs as forage for kaitiakitanga and stewardship of the hill country.

Ongoing and planned research:

  • Destructive sampling of shrubs will be undertaken to obtain data for biomass allometry analysis which will be used to model shrub productivity and the financial implications of establishing native shrubs on hill country farms.
  • Infra-red spectroscopy will be utilised to establish a predictive relationship with shrub forage quality based on wet chemistry. This approach offers a relatively quick and cost-effective method for assessing forage quality.
  • In vitro fermentation will be conducted using extracted rumen fluid to measure the production of rumen gasses, including methane, from native shrubs.
  • Surveys and interviews will be conducted to gain knowledge of the Mātauranga Māori of the native shrub species in the study.


4: Forage selection tool

What are we doing for farmers?

The purpose of this research area, led by Cameron Ludemann, is to assess the feasibility of adapting the DairyNZ Forage Value Index (FVI) to sheep and beef farms using a case study approach. The overall benefit of the Dairy NZ FVI is estimated to be $160 million each year, so it was considered of value to explore this for sheep and beef farms. 

To help inform this assessment, working relationships were successfully established with the New Zealand Plant Breeders Association and DairyNZ.  This allowed access to relevant data sets and the algorithms required to undertake this work.

Ongoing and planned research:

  • Work on assessing the feasibility of the DairyNZ FVI tool for sheep and beef is complete. Further work on the forage value tool is limited due to insufficient appropriate data (on ryegrass cultivars) from hill country locations within the timeframe of this programme.


KEY ACHIEVEMENTS TO DATE - Regional legume map

KEY ACHIEVEMENTS TO DATE - Feasibility assessment of native plants as fodder

KEY ACHIEVEMENTS TO DATE - Feasibility assessment of FVI

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