Work underway at Southern Dairy Hub

Leaders in government, the local dairy industry and the science community have gathered to mark progress at the site of the new Southern Dairy Hub.

Work is underway to convert the site – at Makarewa, just north of Invercargill – from a sheep farm and a beef farm into a working dairy farm and centre for science and research that will support the dairy industry in Southland and Otago.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce added his bit to the conversion by climbing aboard an excavator to move some earth at the site of the Hub’s new dairy shed.

The principal shareholders in the Hub are DairyNZ and AgResearch, both of which have invested $5 million each, while through the Southern Dairy Development Trust (SDDT) local farmers and businesses have added a further $1.25 million.

The Hub will allow for farmer-led and local issues to be researched on southern soils, in southern conditions, delivering innovative, industry-led agricultural research and education opportunities.

Dairying is a significant industry in Southland and Otago with the forecast for milk production in the current season to be worth $1.9 billion gross, based on the $6/Kg milk solids price, says Hub chair Maurice Hardie.

“The $6/kg price is only a little above the breakeven milk price for the region and much of the earnings will, in fact, be spent on running the farm with local agri-businesses, including lending institutions, benefitting from farmer expenditure.

“With dairying playing such a major role in the region’s economy, it is essential that dairy challenges and opportunities be addressed through local research and demonstration,” he says.

“The journey to bring about the Hub began four years ago when, with the support of DairyNZ, local farmers brought together a group of like-minded people to firstly build a business case, then secure investment followed by purchasing suitable land which was settled on November 1.”

AgResearch Chief Executive Tom Richardson says his organisation is committed to the Hub being a base for research that allows the local dairy industry to flourish and grow.

“That means developing solutions that address the specific issues that farmers in Otago and Southland face. It’s a great partnership working right alongside DairyNZ and the local farmers.”

DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader, Dr Bruce Thorrold, says the Hub is a key project for DairyNZ and that southern region farmers will gain much value from it.

“Research will compare and test new theories and innovation, including environmental management, wintering options and effluent. Farm systems will also be compared and current programmes, such as the Forage Value Index, will be tested and validated in local conditions to produce local data.”

Dr Thorrold chairs the Hub’s recently established research advisory committee which also includes AgResearch scientists and two farmer representatives.

The 349 hectare farm will be self-contained for wintering and young stock, allowing for research to be carried out across the whole system.

It is designed to run up to four 200-cow herds, with one used as the control to demonstrate top commercial performance, with 640 cows to be milked in the coming 2017-2018 season.

Conversion work under way includes site preparation for the dairy shed, research office space, storage facilities, barns, and staff housing, along with farm roads and races, fencing and the effluent system.

Southern Dairy Development Trust chair Matthew Richards said local farmers liked the fact that that $10m was being invested from outside the region by AgResearch and DairyNZ.

“Over 500 local farmers have also contributed $2000 or more per farm, which, together with donations from local businesses, has provided a further $1.25m towards the hub.

“It’s sign they’re looking long term. The Hub is not probably so much for us but for the next generation of farmers.”

Also planned is an agri-business centre, which will provide offices and facilities for training, education, and extension activities.  A name-sponsor is now being sought for the centre.  Interested parties should contact Southern Dairy Hub board member Elaine Cook.