What is winter cropping? How an innovative approach can help farmers

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Following the release of a video showing poorly managed cows on a Southland farm, winter cropping has come under scrutiny of late. It’s a practice that is essential for most farmers, and it involves pre-selecting and planting crops to be strip fed to stock when the growth of grass slows – or stops – during winter.

The video raises concerns around animal welfare and nutrient runoff to cast all farmers in a negative light. But in reality, there are a larger proportion of livestock farmers who work within regulations and follow proper management techniques.

The considered procurement of winter crops has been integral to the development and financial sustainability of many farms over the past decade. Winter crops fill a major gap in the seasonal supply of food for stock, especially in the South Island where the growth of grasses slows significantly – or stops altogether –when the temperature drops. They also provide a balanced diet, improve the live weight and condition scores of animals, and limit environmental impacts when done correctly.

Dairy NZ separate winter grazing into four components; planning and paddock selection, crop establishment, grazing, and post-wintering. Paddock selection is arguably the most important consideration of the four, because it has the most influence on crop yield, access to water and shelter and the potential for nutrient runoff.

This is backed up by research from Telford (a division of Lincoln University), who demonstrated that careful grazing near natural water ways and appropriate management of Critical Source Areas (CSAs) can reduce the loss of soil particles and phosphorus from paddocks by 80-90%. Post-wintering is also a key consideration, as the right crop will not just aid in feeding stock but help restore its fertility too.

When it comes to planning a robust winter crop rotation, our agronomists are well-versed in the environmental and financial obligations farmers face. Now is the time to start planning for the 2019/20 season, and one tool we use daily is Agworld. It’s a cloud-based agronomy app, and you can read more about it here.

Working with farmers, we use Agworld to select paddocks, track rotations and measure nutrient inputs around the clock. The app highlights the planned amount of nutrient inputs for crops (depending on the target yield requirement and soil fertility) and allows for that information to be sent to contractors and stakeholders; ensuring CSAs and nutrient buffer zones are communicated effectively.

Farmers are passionate about their animals and the communities they’re part of. We are too. As a business that’s leading the industry in the successful procurement of winter feed crops, it’s in our best interest to ensure farmers are implementing sustainable grazing systems. We believe that these issues must be met with a straightforward approach, with technical innovation at the forefront.

To learn more about how Agworld has been a success on farms throughout the South Island, watch our case study video. Or to find out how our approach to agronomy can enhance your winter crop rotation, feel free to contact us.