Focus on forage the way to sustainable farm profits

Pastoral farming is a huge earner for New Zealand worth over $23 billion in export revenues last year.  Forages – the grasses and other plants grazed by farm animals – are a critical part of pastoral farming systems.  Industry participants consider there is significant scope to lift the contribution forages make to the underlying productivity and profitability of the pastoral sectors and to achieve these outcomes in an environmentally sustainable manner. 

This is why an initiative to improve the sustainability and profitability of New Zealand’s forage grazing systems has the buy-in of everyone representing the pastoral sector. Industry groups, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ, FAR, the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand, commercial interests through the New Zealand Plant Breeding and Research Association, and government via AgResearch and the Ministry for Primary Industries are all working together on a 20 year vision for New Zealand forages. The aim is to ensure forage-based grazed farm systems are more sustainable and profitable in the future.

A pastoral industry Forage Strategy Steering Group has been set up and its chairman, Richard Green, says one of the key lessons from the previous Forage Review Strategy in 2011 was the power of aligning the sector’s resources by involving all the organisations that support farmers.

“In lean times it is particularly vital to have good forages and good grazing management. Good times for dairy farming up until recently have diminished the sharp focus on pasture, and contributed to overall higher production costs.  In the current environment, those higher costs are neither profitable nor sustainable.

“However, for many sheep and beef farming systems, tight economic conditions have been a fact of farming for decades.  For these systems, there may be chronic under-investment in both soils and pastures that could also be proving unsustainable, and has arguably lead to underinvestment from agribusiness as well.

“While the issues might be different across the pastoral sector, the underlying theme is that the stakeholders all need to be better aligned,” Green said.

James Morrison who managed the 2011 review will also manage this project. The project will develop a five-year action plan by September this year.

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