Dairy Trust Taranaki is showing the region’s dairy farmers the result of research work on its four farms. Jackie Harrigan reports.

With a new general manager and new research programmes, Dairy Trust Taranaki is set to carry on taking on some of the big hairy issues in the dairy industry to guide farm system decisions.

After many years’ stellar service, operations manager Debbie McCallum has taken a step back from managing the trust’s day-to-day activities across the province’s four research farms.

Jason Rolfe has taken on the new general manager role and is excited at the results from finishing research programmes and the potential for new directions in research. Rolfe comes from 11 years working at FMG and the 2017 Nuffield scholar programme where he spent a year studying the development of an online sales strategy for New Zealand, investigating how NZ agrifood producers can leverage mobile technology to add more value.

Jason grew up in Taranaki on an Inglewood dairy farm and studied B Comm Agri in rural valuation and farm management through Lincoln University.

Acknowledging that the province has a fantastic resource in four distinct research facilities Rolfe says the onus is on the trust to show they are top farmers testing research at a commercial scale, and that one of his KPIs is to increase awareness of the work being undertaken and to work with partners to increase extension and tech transfer from the research farms to commercial farmers’ operations.

“We have been accused of having the best hidden treasure in the country – so the plan is to work with other research facilities and funders to ensure the best research and widest dissemination of the knowledge.”


  • Coastal south Taranaki
  • 110 eff ha
  • 72x1ha paddocks
  • Annual rainfall 1100mm
  • 100m asl
  • Hawera, alongside the Whareroa Fonterra site
  • Suited for farmlet comparisons with 72x1ha paddocks and infrastructure to support multiple herds.

Gibson farm has recently finished the second year of a three-year Step Change programme trial – comparing a current farm system (3.1 cows/ha, 190kg N, up to 700kg DM/cow imported feed) with a Future Farm system (2.15 cows/ha, 75kgN/ha, up to 300kg DM/cow imported feed) to investigate GHG emissions and profit.

The results were very encouraging, Jason said, showing the less-intensive Future Farm operating profit only 2% lower than current farm for a 21% reduction of total GHG/ha/yr CO2e and a drop of 15% of methane.

Pasture utilisation dropped by 4% but Jason said the future herd had more supplement grown onfarm, less imported feed and less animal health issues – but he prefaced that by saying it was a difficult season and more data was needed before a trend could be drawn.

Plantain was oversown into the Future farm, and proved to be more drought resistant in dry periods.

Botanical analysis showed less clover than they would like, and also increased plantain, and this season the last third of the farm will be oversown.

“We will be trying for 20% of the sward to be plantain over the whole farmlet.”

Interestingly, Jason said the sensitivity analysis of profitability at $6-$10/kg milksolids (MS) showed a reducing profit differential for the current farm at decreasing milk payout, ranging from $202/ha more at $10/kg MS, through to $419/ha less than the Future Farm at $6/kg MS.

“The milk price needed for similar operating profit over the two systems is $8.70/kg MS,” Jason said.

“If the milk price slips below $8.70/kg MS then the less intensive Future Farm becomes more profitable by up to $419/ha at $6/kg MS.”

These figures were calculated before the recent inflationary pressures hit farm costs and based on one year of data, Jason said the trial is in its third year and the trust is planning to try to extend by a couple of years to collect more data.


  • 213 eff ha
  • Adjacent to Gibson farm
  • 600 cows, 204ha milking platform
  • Target 245,000kg MS
  • Recent research covered transitions to autumn calving

Following a three-year research programme into transitions to autumn calving, Jason Rolfe said the farm is transitioning back to spring calving and undertaking a 10-year research programme into becoming a zero emissions farm.

The programme started on June 1, 2022, and will be a practical demonstration programme over 10 years – taking the first five years to become C neutral and becoming carbon positive after that.

“We have done the baseline modelling and sampling the soil and are now looking at farm system changes and technologies to help us,” Jason said.

A breeding programme with LIC will make use of the low methane sires and Kowbucha probiotics will be used to reduce methane in the replacement calves.

While there have been lots of suggestions, Jason said it is important that any changes the farm makes are available for the majority of NZ farmers to access and implement.

A new aspect of the trial was inclusion of a social aspect to the trial.

The new trial funder stipulated that any changes made to the farm system in moving to C Zero would not have a negative impact on the farm team, and so Jason said they grabbed the opportunity to include that as a key objective of the trials.

“We are trying to get to a 45-hour working week to make it more like a town job and will be introducing a 10-in-7 milking regime to lower milking hours and new rosters to make it easier on staff.”

Installing cow collars and the Halter technology was another aspect to increase data collection which Jason said will add to the environmental piece.

“Using Halter to track cow movements and Ravensdown technology to schedule and map fertiliser application means we can be much more targeted with fertiliser exclusion zones.”


  • Formerly Stratford Demonstration farm
  • 51ha eff
  • East of Stratford
  • Annual rainfall 2000mm
  • 300m asl
  • 160-180 cows
  • Target production: 70,000kg MS
  • Research in 2017/18 and 2018/19 was farm-scale research into wintering/spring strategies with half the herd accessing a covered wood standoff area.

DTT Stratford is in the third year of a four-year trial investigating treating urine patches with nitrogen inhibitors using a Spikey machine. The Spikey machine is trailed behind a quadbike and treats urine patches with a nitrification inhibitor. The trial is looking at reducing nitrate leaching and using that nitrogen to grow more grass.

The results are mixed so far, Jason said, as while the low-rate N application has grown more grass over the trial period, making more silage and the cows have managed more days in milk, they were not seeing an increase of milk in the vat.

“The main inhibitor we have been using is gibberellic acid, so now we are looking at some other options alongside Pasture Robotics, developers of the Spikey technology, who are seeing really good results at their other trial sites in Canterbury and Bay of Plenty,” Jason said.


  • 34ha eff, 120 cows
  • 40 x 0.86ha paddocks
  • North of Manaia
  • Annual rainfall 1140mm
  • 90m asl
  • Recent research into eliminating reliance on imported feed and growing all supplements onfarm.

Waimate West has started a seven-year diverse pasture mix trial, comparing two farmlets, one with conventional rye/clover based pastures and the other diverse multispecies pasture mix.

Initially 20% of the farmlet will be planted in the diverse pastures (as recommended for a regenerative farming system) with the whole farmlet to be gradually all resown over the length of the trial.

The trial objectives are to determine how well diverse pastures perform relative to profit and production from conventional pastures. Environmental themes are to determine whether diverse pastures lead to reduced N leaching and retain or increase soil carbon compared with ryegrass-based pastures.

Wellbeing and values are also being investigated to determine whether diverse pastures provide farmers and their communities with better outcomes with regards to how the production system is perceived by themselves, consumers and stakeholders.

Both farmlets have a stocking rate of 3.47 cows/ha, Jersey cows, autumn calving mated with Kiwicross and Speckle Park sires by AB. Trial measurements for all the above include milk production, pasture growth, cow liveweight and condition, fertiliser applications, pasture botanicals and soil biology and carbon measurements.

With Ministry for Primary Industries funding, the trial is a separate piece of work however the DTT is a research partner of recently launched Whenua Haumanu MPI project testing claims around regen agriculture.

The farm is also used by LandBased Training to run dairy training courses, with the hope to introduce a regen dairy farming training course in the future.