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Maize part of pasture renewal programme for peat farm

Stuart Davey (left) with Pioneer Area Manager Richard Brenton-Rule inspect Stuart's crop of Pioneer® brand 34B23.

Maize part of pasture renewal programme for peat farm

2008/09 Season

Owners: Stuart and Kaaren Davey
Farm location: Paeroa

Keeping quality high-producing pastures is a key challenge for Stuart and Kaaren Davey. The Daveys, who were regional winners in the Fonterra Westpac Dairy Excellence Awards in 2004, farm 710 Friesian-Jersey cross cows on a 220 ha (eff.) peat farm in the Matamata-Piako district near Paeroa. Children Robert and Tessa are at university at Lincoln and Waikato respectively.

The farm achieved a record production of 255,000 kgMS (1,159 kgMS/ha) in the 2006/07 season. Production in the 2007/08 season was down to 245,000 kgMS (1,114 kgMS/ha) as a result of the severe summer drought.

"The challenge with peat is it holds water in the winter but dries out in the summer," says Kaaren. "We have to manage it carefully to look after the pastures."

"Last season was the worst drought we had ever experienced. We didn't get any significant rain between 6 November and 16 April. The production drop was relatively small but we fed a lot of extra supplement to keep the cows milking. I hate to think how much time Stuart spent sourcing additional feed."

The farm, which has been in Stuart's family for 50 years, has grown maize for about 25 years. Initially, maize was used to help convert raw peat paddocks into high-yielding pastures. Now, it's a standard part of the pasture renewal programme.

"Maize is the perfect crop to renovate pasture," says Stuart. "It beats everything hands down for drymatter per hectare."

Last year, Stuart planted 7 ha of Pioneer® brand 34B23 which was fed in the paddocks during the winter months.

"We keep around 550 cows at home during winter and feed maize silage to extend our rotation out to 100 days while getting pasture covers up to 2,500 kgDM/ha prior to calving," says Stuart. "It's great for putting weight on cows as well as increasing pasture cover levels."

Feed deficits during the summer are filled with pasture silage (both grown on-farm and purchased in) and palm kernel extract. An in-shed feeding system feeds a mix of palm kernel extract, molasses and minerals with Nutriliq (a whey by-product) fed in troughs in the exit race.

Stuart has planted 4.5 ha of Pioneer® brand 34B23 for maize silage. In addition, he has planted 4 ha of Pioneer® brand Bettagraze forage sorghum x sudan-grass at the back of the farm. It will be harvested two to three times during the summer as baled silage.

"We spray-out, plough, power harrow and then plant," says Stuart. "The aim is to get the maize in the ground by 20 October."

This season, the crop was sidedressed with N25K (a 50:50 potash – urea blend) at about knee height.

Currently the farm is running 10% behind last season due to the combination of lower cow numbers and a really wet spring.

"We have more feed on hand than we did last year and so we hope to finish the season ahead of last year," says Kaaren. "We always like to improve if we can."

Stuart and Kaaren employ a lower-order sharemilker on the farm and this has influenced the way their farm system has evolved.

"We aim to have a low-cost simple system that utilises all the pasture that we grow and uses supplements to help maximise the farms potential," says Stuart.