Pastoral 21 venture to boost productivity and reduce environmental impacts

Pastoral 21 is a collaborative venture involving DairyNZ, Fonterra, the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.  Designed to boost farm productivity and reduce environmental impacts, the programme, which began in 2007, is now well into its second phase, and has seen teams from many research organisations working together in a variety of coordinated research and farmer adoption programmes.

Initial programmes encompassed the full spectrum of scale and complexity. One study showed the production impact of grazing management and diet composition, while another involved systems thinking (how individual elements influence one another within a complete entity) among multiple stakeholders to set targets and agree on a preferred approach to improve the quality of waterways.

Pastoral 21 Phase II is even bolder and will draw on the work of its predecessor, as well from other public- and industry-good R&D programmes, to create proven solutions that can be practically applied on farms.

Its twin goals are:

  • a $110/ha/year increase in average profitability from dairy production, with a 30% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous losses to water.
  • a 3% annual meat productivity increase, while containing or reducing
    environmental footprint.

Delivering on these goals will mean changing the current relationship between production and environmental footprint, says AgResearch’s P21 Science Leader Mark Shepherd.

“Thanks to science, better farm management practices and other tools, we have found amazing ways to increase farm production over the years,” he says. “We’ve also found ways to reduce environmental footprint – but not at the same pace.”

“Our goal is to reverse that trend – to ensure efficiency gains to reduce our environmental footprint are larger than production gains.”

So who wins in this scenario – farmers or the environment? “Both,” says Mark. “Production gains are as critical as ever. What’s changed is that the commitment to creating gains that are sustainable, within a given environmental footprint, has gone up to a whole new level.”

Pastoral 21-II objectives sit within three broad themes: Next generation dairy systems, lifting profitability for mixed livestock systems, and breakthrough technologies.

The dairy work is a five year farm systems programme in four key dairy regions that aims to implement new dairy systems integrating proven component concepts to increase profitability from production while reducing the environmental footprint.

The mixed livestock programme also has redesigned systems at its core – but this time with the aim of optimising and utilising forage growth on farms where lambs and young beef animals are finished on hill country.

Breakthrough technologies are not about any particular farming sector, but about proving new concepts that offer the potential to change the relationship, described earlier, between production gains and environmental footprint.

“P21 shows how organisations working together, at both the investment and the delivery end of science and innovation, create teams that can have a real impact. This ensures options are available for New Zealand pastoral production to remain sustainably competitive,” says DairyNZ Chief Executive, Dr Tim Mackle.