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  • Writer's pictureEmily House

Farming Research – Where Should the Dollars be Spent?

A couple of years ago vet and 5th Business Agri founder Pat Poletti published an excellent article with a similar title. Pat was questioning whether it was worth spending farmer-funded research money on pursuing the genetics of feed conversion efficiency in dairy cows. Or instead, if we should be looking at the +80% difference that can be attributed to environmental influences (for example animal diet and stress level).

His conclusion? That it was ultimately up to those approving the funding to decide. But we’re not at the mercy of the researchers. In the meantime, farmers have an opportunity to get on with it. As an environmental factor, mineral nutrition is hugely important in feed conversion efficiency

While Pat’s article focuses on genetics, today the research flavour of the month is Regenerative Agriculture and its ability to potentially reduce and reverse farming’s environmental footprint.

While in this case it’s not necessarily “farmer funded”, the question still remains: Is this a worthwhile use of taxpayer’s money? I’d have to agree with Pat Poletti here, it will be for those making the choices to decide. In the meantime, there are a number of things we can do to improve the health of our animals and reduce our environmental impact. Whether we farm conventionally, organically or regeneratively is beside the point.

A more efficient animal has a lower environmental impact. Methane emissions from livestock are directly linked to dry matter intake, so the more kgMS or liveweight gain they can achieve per kgDM, the lower their impact will be. Researchers have found that less efficient animals convert more of their energy intake into heat rather than growth or milk production. This relates to thermoregulation which is the process used to control heat production and how the animal partitions energy between keeping warm and growing or making milk.

The effectiveness of the thermoregulatory processes are tied up with two trace elements, iodine and selenium. These are both commonly deficient in NZ pastures. Finding out these mineral levels in your pasture and ensuring your animals are supplemented to sufficiency year round will be a huge step towards farming more efficient livestock.

A preliminary look into the mineral composition of more diverse pastures (5-20+ species) show promising results for animal health. Sampling of diverse pasture swards, all of which differ with different species composition show some general trends. These include significantly increased calcium levels. Even if you’re not wanting to go down the road of introducing 5+ species, over sowing plantain and chicory in your sward will significantly improve the calcium content of your pastures for better animal health outcomes. Think of the limeflour dusting you could potentially save on!

Where the funding goes will always be the prerogative of those handing out the money, but we don’t need to wait around. There’s plenty we can all be doing now to improve farm sustainability and animal health and performance. Including pasture mineral composition in our decision making is the first step!

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