A collaboration between a Canterbury seed company and a local farmer is paying dividends for both.

Cropmark Seeds, a Canterbury-based seed breeding company is working closely with Burnham-based dairy farmers Tony and Sue Reynolds to evaluate lines of forage grasses it has developed within its plant breeding programme.

Cropmark breed and supply a full portfolio of forage grasses, clovers, herbs, brassicas and novel endophytes for dairy farming systems from their base in Selwyn.

The company is the country’s only fully NZ-owned forage grass and crop seed company – all its competitors are overseas-owned.

As part of its R&D programme, it runs a network of large-scale onfarm cultivar evaluation trials across multiple dairy farms in Canterbury, the Waikato and Victoria, Australia each overseen by a regional trials agronomist. In these trials, cultivars are evaluated under both simulated grazing (cut) and herd grazing in irrigated and rainfed environments.

Cropmark’s technical manager Dr Matt Deighton oversees all trialing activities conducted by the company.

“Factors such as seasonal drymatter yield, metabolisable energy, digestibility, grazing preference, disease and insect pest tolerance, animal safety and persistence are all measured,” Matt says.

“We want to ensure that our forages perform consistently across the country. To begin with, new cultivars must excel within managed trials, but it’s equally important that they demonstrate robust performance under commercial conditions, and that’s where our relationships with our host farmers comes to the fore.”

“The Cropmark breeding programme produces hundreds of nucleus seed lines each year, all of which enter first-stage productivity trials within replicated ‘mini swards’. To increase trial throughput, Cropmark have recently imported a Gianni Ferrari forage harvester from Italy, enabling a single operator to maintain the yield measurement rotation – speed is key with over 1500 ‘mini swards’ to maintain.”

Being able to work onfarm with co-operative farmers is essential for the company, and that is where Tony and Sue Reynolds come in. The company runs a series of trials each year on their property, and this enables screening of varieties based on their onfarm performance.

Tony and Sue milk a crossbred herd of 380 cows under irrigation on the outskirts of Burnham. After many years of farm management, they decided to develop their own farm and in 2018 converted their dry-stock property.

Hosting Cropmark’s onfarm trials enables them to keep up with the latest in forage development and they value being able to view the performance of a range of varieties under their environment and management practices.

“With a stocking rate of 4.75 cows/ha we have a real focus on maintaining high quality pastures and our home-grown feed supply,” Tony says.

“This season we’re on track to produce 2500kg milksolids (MS)/ha, so supporting Cropmark to develop new high-performance forages and getting them into our system quickly is a win-win for us.”

Avatar NEA

One perennial ryegrass cultivar that has consistently excelled within Cropmark’s trials is Avatar NEA, a new high performing tetraploid containing the NEA endophyte.

Matt describes Avatar as a very late heading and persistent tetraploid ryegrass producing high metabolizable energy (ME) yields per hectare, a winning combination for milk producers and key selection criterion for Cropmark.

Avatar NEA combines three high value traits that drive its overall performance and value:

  1. Plant persistence by withstanding increasing environmental pressures to maintain high plant populations within grazed swards;
  2. Improved Nutritive Value and palatability to promote higher consumption per cow, increase daily energy intake, improve sward utilization and assist maintaining residuals, and
  3. Seasonally weighted ME yield with an emphasis on increased yield during winter, summer and autumn when feed is needed most, whilst maintaining spring pasture quality.Matt says Avatar NEA excels across all three of these traits and is highly ranked in the NZPBRA National Forage Variety Trials (NFVT) for its drymatter yield alone. In fact, Avatar NEA has earned the highest NFVT rank of all perennial ryegrasses, of any ploidy, for high value winter yield for all NZ. Avatar NEA has repeated its competitive dry matter yield in the most recent Upper South Island NFVT trial completed this year. (Table 1).

Tony and Sue were among the first in the country to sow Avatar NEA as it became commercially available. Their first paddock was an under-sown year-old chicory crop, Avatar was a vigorous establisher so was chosen again to renew their older diploid pastures.

Tony, who sees value in multi-species pastures on his Burnham soils, says he’s also impressed with a multi-species dairy mix of Avatar NEA, Reaper red clover, Mantra white clover, Chico chicory and Oracle plantain. He’s been particularly pleased with the winter feed accumulation of Avatar in his rye-clover paddocks too. “That’s helped us carry higher covers through spring until day.

“The strong winter activity and palatability of Avatar has been obvious in our system, even as covers get away in spring, being a very late heading tetraploid, the cows achieve residuals and keep the quality up without topping.”