Gippsland Grows Green Grass

 

In Gippsland, the dairy industry will use the support from the William Buckland Foundation and FRRR to provide a learning group model called Gippsland Grow Green Grass which will elevate farmer capacity so that pasture utilisation is maximised and environmental stewardship can be demonstrated. The William Buckland Foundation through the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) instigated the discussions with GippsDairy that lead to this collaborative project. 

In Gippsland, dairy farmers source over 50% of their herds’ energy requirements from grazed pasture. Pasture consumption per hectare ranges from a very low 4tDM/ha and an excellent 15tDM/ha (Dairy Industry Farm Monitor Project, Annual report 2012-13). This would strongly suggest that there is room for improvement in pasture utilisation on Gippsland dairy farms

In order for the dairy industry to be sustainable so that it is ‘dairying tomorrow’ it needs to improve productivity with minimal impact on the environment.  Fertiliser use requires knowledge of soil fertility and best practice application rates so that nutrients are used efficiently to grow pasture and not leave the farm and enter catchment waterways. For practice change on-farm to occur there needs to be development of comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis of information, and evaluation shown in critical thinking (Bloom’s hierarchy). Farmers using their own soil test results, their own farm plans and knowledge of current pasture utilisation will move along these steps on gaining knowledge so they reach a level of expertise at the end of the project. 

The aim therefore of this project is to invest in farmer capability so that improved decision making elevates pasture utilisation, business profitability and environmental stewardship. The project will also communicate to dairy farmers and the wider community, the support of the William Buckland Foundation and FRRR.

The project intends to:

  • build confidence, knowledge and skills of participating dairy farmers in pasture production and utilisation through benchmarking, assessment, planning and trialling and through the use of other industry resources (eg pasture book, website tools, field days, courses, experts).
  • communicate project outcomes to the wider communities and the stakeholders through the media, field days,  monitoring and evaluation.
  • promote the support provided by the William Buckland Foundation and FRRR to sustainable agriculture. 

In the first two years, groups will be formed that will follow recommendations from the Gippsland Grows Green Grass project evaluation.

  • Gippsland dairy farms produce pasture from three different sets of growing conditions; high rainfall, low rainfall and irrigation. The groups will be located within the regions defined as  Westernport, West Gippsland, South Gippsland, the Macalister Irrigation District and the Bairnsdale/Orbost area. 
  • Each group will consist of people from 10 dairy businesses. 
  • People will be engaged in a group via a ‘champion’ who is a farmer who takes on the task to invite friends and neighbours to form a group. 
  • Each group will meet 7 times over 10 months. An agricultural service provider will be the group’s facilitator/specialist who will tease out the learning level the group wants to achieve, to give structure to the meetings, to provide technical expertise and to invite technical experts to relevant sessions, to ensure that information is synthesised and evaluated. 
  • Each meeting will be short and punchy, lasting only 2 to 3 hours with participants encouraged to “bring your lunch and come as you are”. 
  • The groups will meet on farm and by the end will have visited most farms of the group members. 
  • The groups will use the industry Pasture Guide as a reference document throughout their meetings. Group discussion will cover:
    • What should I grow and tips for sowing success
    • Soils and nutrients, fertiliser regimes; using the Dairy Self Assessment Tool and their whole farm nutrient management plans
    • Estimating pasture dry matter available, developing a feed plan and using complementary feeds
    • Pasture benchmarking, how to calculate total pasture dry matter consumed per hectare per year
    • Pests and weeds

Involved in the discussion will be the Dairy Self Assessment Tool (Dairy SAT) and whole farm nutrient management plans. 

Industry tools and information will be signposted at meetings along with encouragement to take explore up. Examples are;

Feeding pastures for profit. This 6 day course is offered twice a year but is often under attended despite it being highly regarded by the dairy industry. The content and benefits of the course will be talked about with the farmer groups along with encouragement for them to consider attending whether during or after the feedbase extension groups finish.

Dairybase and Dairy Farm Monitor. The Dairybase is a new offering to the dairy industry in which people can add their individual farm figures and see how they compare to farms in their region or other regions of Australia. It will provide an easy way to analyse farm productivity and profitability of which pasture utilisation is an important component. 

Soils and Fertilisers. This is a 7 day course including 4 on farm days that is offered annually but again is often poorly attended. The primary focus of the course is around the requirements to efficiently growing quality pasture.  It includes nutrient budgeting, understanding soil structure and type and the use of nitrogen.

 For more information on this or any of our projects, please call Karen Romano, Projects and Events Co-ordinator at the office on 56243900 or email her.