Grazing winter crops helps save pasture and limit soil damage on Carla Staples’ farm.

A lot has happened since we wrote our last article. Calving is almost over, and spring is well and truly here. Covid-19 has re-emerged in the community and, although it was in Auckland, it has affected the whole country with the South Island again being put back into Level 2 even though there had been no cases in the south.

Another big event on the horizon is the upcoming election and the growing list of new policies each party is presenting to us to ensure we vote for them. There have been some very interesting policies flashed ab

out by some. Currently, the biggest issue for New Zealand farmers would have to be the new freshwater legislation that the current government has rolled out – it has certainly been a talking point in our household and amongst friends. The nitrogen limit and crop resowing dates are not the biggest issue for us, although we will have to reduce our nitrogen use slightly.

The biggest issue will be around the pugging rules. As everyone knows it can get quite wet on the Coast. From May until October things can be quite challenging as far as soil and pasture management go. Having these winter crops enables us to conserve pasture and limit soil damage to just the three paddocks we crop instead of any paddock we graze over winter/spring when the weather is too wet.

To limit pugging to 50% of the paddock, let alone a depth of 5cm on our soils, would mean the cows would have to stand/sit on concrete/gravel for up to 23 hours a day, and on top of this we would have to buy in a considerable amount of silage to feed them while they are on the pad. We have looked into covering the feedpad and turning it into a composting-barn style enclosure, and it’s something we will consider in the future. But even if we did it and we still grew the winter crops and lifted them to feed in the barn, the ground conditions we experience over this period would make it near impossible. Walking through a paddock in our gumboots after a rain event here would leave tread marks deeper than 5 cm let alone driving machinery in it.

We understand why the government wants to improve the effect cropping has on the environment, but using a blanket approach is not the way forward. What works for Northland certainly won’t work for Southland or the West Coast. The Coast already has some of the cleanest waterways in New Zealand and most farmers here are going above and beyond to keep them that way. A lot of thought goes into the planning of our winter crops regarding run-off and proximity to waterways to limit any effect we have on water quality.

We bought our farm three years ago so we could run the farm the way we wanted, but it seems as though the government is trying to take this away from us.

No doubt this discussion is going on in most farming households throughout New Zealand – it’s certainly a hot topic at the moment and it will be interesting to see whether there are any more changes made to this legislation over the coming months as the farming community gives the current government some much-needed feedback.

Farmwise, the spring has been pretty straightforward so far compared with last season. Calving went very smoothly and the cows have been milking very well. We just need a bit more sun and warmth and the grass will be away.

We also managed to get two of our winter crop paddocks sown in grass in mid-September, which was a bit of a miracle considering the weather over that period. We also had a new backing gate installed at the cowshed in August, which has made milking a lot smoother. Before we know it we’ll be back into mating again.