Following the formal opening of the Southern Dairy Hub in July 2017, a lot of planning is going into research to take place at the Hub and how it can help dairy farmers in Otago and Southland make gains and address the challenges they face.

The 349-hectare facility, jointly invested in by southern dairy farmers, AgResearch and DairyNZ will operate as a working dairy farm as well as a site for important research to support the local dairy industry. Research at the site will focus on comparisons between farm systems that include different forages and supplementary feed, and work around environmental performance. Much of the current focus is ensuring everything is in place for projects to hit the ground running next season.

Research led by DairyNZ comparing winter feeding regimes of fodder beet or kale, and to validate DairyNZ’s Forage Value Index (FVI) – a ranking system for cultivars – is already underway at the Hub. Data from the winter feeding study is already being collected and reported for farmers to track the effects of high allocation of fodder beet and kale on milk production and body condition scores compared to target allocation. Pastures for the FVI study are planted and measurements will begin in the spring to compare the performance of high and low FVI ranked perennial ryegrass cultivars under realistic dairy farm management conditions.

With four separate farmlets of about 200 cows each being established at the Hub to allow direct research comparisons, the collaborative research team is working towards trials that will contrast the performance of different crops, feeding approaches and systems with different levels of fertiliser inputs. The monitoring at the site will focus on the impacts on productivity and profitability, and losses of nitrate to water.

Planning is also underway into research that will look at the level of surface water contaminants at a small water catchment at the Hub, to provide further insights into environmental performance and the scope for further research.

A Research Advisory Committee made up of science representatives from southern farmers, AgResearch and DairyNZ has been tasked with canvassing the needs of the wider southern farming community and considering what forms of research and specific projects would be most beneficial, and what the technical requirements of each will be. Recommendations are then made to the operating body at the Hub, the Southern Demonstration and Research Farm Limited, to consider issues such as cost and how the research will fit within the constraints of the working farm and the wider remit of the Hub, before any approval can be given.

Partners at the Hub will work together on research, and with external partners. An important focus will be working with Environment Southland on the monitoring and design of the farming systems to help inform wider policy discussions.

*More information about research at the Hub will be provided as the planning and trial work progresses.