Feeding the world and helping the environment drive Ian's work
Pioneer® brand products Forage and Farm Systems Specialist Ian Williams.
It's a long way from rural New Zealand to densely populated Manila, but that journey inspires Ian Williams in his work every single day.
Ian joined Pioneer® brand products as a Forage Specialist in May 1999 and, if you've ever attended
a Pioneer meeting, you've probably heard him talk about the benefits of maize silage.
He has spent the past 14 years helping New Zealand farmers achieve the most from their maize silage investment and, for Ian, it's more than just a job.
Working for Pioneer gives him the opportunity to profitably and sustainably increase domestic milk production. That's at the heart of Ian's passion as New Zealand milk products are helping to feed a growing world population.
Ian and his wife Elaine have seen first-hand the effect of food shortages and the subsequent rise in food prices on the world's poor. The couple spent 11 years living and working in the slums of Manila in the Philippines, helping the holistic development of local communities.
They went there with two kids under three and their third child was born during that time.
"The community we lived in was densely populated with 5,000 people crammed onto 1.6 hectares", says Ian. "Our 16 square metre home was made from a combination of recycled corrugated iron, plywood and cardboard."
Living in such impoverished circumstances meant facing the reality of people dying from starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.
"You can't be dispassionate about food production when you see people you are close to dying simply because they cannot get enough to eat. "
"Our time in Manila seared into my soul the need for the world's poor to be fed", says Ian. "You can't be dispassionate about food production when you see people you are close to dying simply because they cannot get
enough to eat."
The United Nations predicts the global population will rise from seven billion currently to more than nine billion by 2050.
Also, as incomes rise, dietary preferences will change from cereal grains to animal proteins.
These two factors will drive additional global demand for dairy products, with New Zealand milk helping to feed the world's poor.
That means producing more milk and Ian believes maize silage will be the key to feeding cows.
"Most farmers know maize silage is great for putting condition on cows, but it is also a fantastic milking feed", says Ian.
"Many of the world's highest-producing dairy farms use it as the base for their rations."
Maize produces high yields of quality drymatter in a relatively short growing season. A maize crop planted in October to November and harvested in February to April can produce up to twice as much drymatter as pasture can in a whole year. Local plots, including a trial planted at DairyNZ’s Scott farm in the Waikato, have produced more than 30 tDM/ha.
“The amount of maize being grown on effluent blocks excites me because it’s allowing farmers to reduce their nitrogen leaching, while at the same time providing cost-effective, high quality feed.”
A big advantage of maize is its ability to efficiently use water and produce good yields even under dry growing conditions.
As temperatures continue to rise and New Zealand heads towards a more Mediterranean climate, the risk and frequency of long, dry spells are forecast to double by 2040. Climatologists warn it could cost farmers and the economy billions of dollars in lost production each year unless farmers adjust their farming practices.
Maize has a summer water use efficiency more than three times that of ryegrass. Its deep rooting system allows it to access water which has dropped out of the root zone of shallow-rooted pasture species.
Modern high-genetic cows are milk-producing machines. Underfeeding results in significant loss in body condition and the carryover effects of decreased production and poor reproductive performance can last for several seasons. Farmers can protect their cows and weather-proof their production by storing maize silage and feeding it weeks, months or even years later when it is really needed.
“Running a farm without a buffer of stored feed on hand has become way too risky”, says Ian. “As the climate changes, farm practices which worked well in the past will need to be adapted for the future”.
“I’ve seen too many farmers on the brink of financial and emotional collapse, simply because they ran out of feed for their cows.”
High maize silage yields mean a low cost per unit of drymatter and that makes maize silage more affordable than bought-in supplements. Farmers in most dairy districts can put maize silage in the stack for 13.8-21.5 c/kgDM. If they can grow their maize crops using dairy shed effluent to replace artificial fertiliser inputs, the cost is 4-6 c/kgDM lower.
His interest in reducing dairy farm nitrogen leaching is fuelled by his love of fly fishing and a desire to one day take his grandkids fishing in crystal clear rivers.
“My father lived for fly fishing, so I grew up with a rod in my hand”, says Ian. “I learnt to fly fish in some of the most beautiful places New Zealand has to offer and I see the damage too much nitrogen is doing.”
Cow urine is the main culprit, responsible for 69% of the nitrogen lost on a typical dairy farm. Feeding maize silage - a low crude protein feedstuff - reduces urinary nitrogen output while growing maize soaks up the nitrogen before it can leach.
During his time in Manila, Ian set up a micro-enterprise run by locals which purchased 40 kg bags of Anchor milk powder and bagged it down. This high-quality New Zealand milk powder retailed for a third of the price of poor quality locally-produced powder which contained a mix of milk and chalk.
“Running a farm without a buffer of stored feed on hand has become way too risky. ”
“A reliable supply of quality food is critical for those who are a lot less fortunate than we are”, says Ian. “As an industry we need to continue to develop profitable and environmentally sustainable dairy farm systems which produce high yields of milk, season after season.”
It’s a quantum leap from the slums of Manila to picturesque New Zealand farms, but that transition sits very comfortably with Ian.
“I’m proud to be involved in New Zealand dairying because it is one of the best industries in the world”, he says enthusiastically. “Together we really can make a difference.”