Articles

Below are monthly articles and small excerpts, to read the full article please click on the blue heading.
 
What you may not already know - December 2016 - Peter Burton
 

A popular belief at present is that a concerted push to reduce the environmental pressure of intensive pastoral farming will mean less pasture grown, resulting in decreasing total farm production, smaller factories and associated infra-structure, fewer dollars being circulated, a decline in economic activity, with communities as a whole suffering.

In essence, there is an acceptance that present pasture and farm production can only be maintained through the continued degradation of soil.

 

Why it won't make any difference - November 2016 - Peter Burton

The official report states sheep are the likely source of the campylobacter contamination of the Havelock North water supply.

For those that believe dairy cows are the source of all contaminants in our groundwater it just doesn’t matter, they will continue to berate individual farmers and the industry as a whole.



Why physical integrity is key - October 2016 - Peter Burton

Fundamental changes in soil fertility practice are already underway, and people are finding their way into one of three camps.

There are those that understand common usage doesn’t necessarily make any practice the best option and are embracing new technologies, or are busy canvassing all their options in preparation for change.



Summer surplus - the measure of success - September 2016 - Peter Burton

The official advice has been to arrange calving in July, in order to maximise milk harvest before the end of December.  This points up a lack of faith in summer pasture production.
 
Yet by discounting the value of summer growth, the potential available from one third of the lactation period is largely ignored.  But long term growth figures from the major dairying areas (with perhaps the exception of Canterbury) do not support the concept of unreliable and slow summer growth.
 

Are we seeing the death of science - August 2016 - Peter Burton

“Where’s your replicated peer reviewed research?”  It’s been the question asked endlessly in recent years of those operating on the fringes of the conventional fertiliser industry.

It’s essential to appreciate that there are no long term trials on any of the widely used fertiliser products being sold today, with the exception of Sechura phosphate rock from Peru, which was being used in the 1980s.
 

The rules have changed, and changed again - July 2016 - Peter Burton

Last month’s article headed, ‘The rules have changed’, started with, ‘the European Union has just refused to grant Monsanto a new license for Glyphosate’.

On the 29th June in the UK’s Guardian there was an article headed, Controversial chemical in Roundup weedkiller escapes immediate ban, followed by, Glyphosate, key ingredient in Monsanto’s bestselling herbicide, has its European licence extended for 18 months despite warnings from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) it is ‘probably carcinogenic’.
 

The rules have changed - June 2016 - Peter Burton

The European Union has just refused to grant Monsanto a new license for Glyphosate.  Whichever side of the debate you’re on, it signals the start of a fundamental change in agriculture worldwide.

Sufficient people worldwide have taken action (protests, petitions, and submissions), which will result in a seismic shift ­­­­­in farming practises.  The desire by consumers to eat meat and vegetables grown from soils ‘uncontaminated’ by weedicides, pesticides, and heavy metal residues will continue to change the way food is produced.
 

A way up for pastoral farmers - May 2016 - Peter Burton

Do you realise that the amount of carbon in your soils affects how much they produce?

A very readable and informative paper on soil carbon produced by the Bay of Plenty Regional Authority in 2011 contains the following passage, “Most pastoral soils in New Zealand are generally considered to be rich in organic carbon so large increases in productivity are not expected by adding more organic matter.
 

Kiwi ingenuity provides genuine alternative - March 2016 - Peter Burton

We’re all aware that nitrogen is one of the essential elements to get plants to grow.
 
What some farmers don’t seem to realise is that there is already tonnes of it in our soils, not to mention it being a major part of the air around us.  The only hitch is that this soil or air nitrogen needs a bit of help from nature to make it suitable for plants to use.
 

Everyone's responsibility - February 2016 - Peter Burton

In the latest the latest Rural News, February 16, there’s an article headed Everybody’s Job, which begins with, “Dairy NZ Chief Executive Tim Mackle says dairy farming’s reputation with the public matters.  

Mackle says the industry’s standing with new Zealanders and its markets impacts the ability to operate profitably and successfully.

“We have to invest in our reputation as we would in any other asset that underpins our competitiveness,” he says.”
 

Permanent pasture is for a reason - February 2016 - Peter Burton

The pasture on New Zealand farms has long been famous for its clover/grass mixture, and much of our agricultural economy has succeeded on it.
 
But somewhere along the line the scientific reasoning behind it has slipped from memory, and along with that seems to have disappeared the idea that pasture is permanent.  These days we not only have rotational grazing, but rotational pasture renewal as well.  This practice not only disturbs the soil life at regular intervals, but comes with considerable cost as well.
 

Why smaller farms can thrive - January 2016 - Peter Burton

Although dairy and lamb prices will inevitably rise sometime, most projections indicate no marked improvement during the next twelve months.

Keith Woodford, in his recent predictions for farming, suggests that the number of smaller family operated farms will steadily decline.  However we’re not so sure.
 

Keeping carbon in the ground, not in the air - December 2015 - Peter Burton

The environmental debate around intensive pastoral farming and fresh water quality is gaining momentum, and people are rapidly taking positions, with the “don’t blame me” lobby seemingly gathering popularity.

Two things worth bearing in mind are, that a supply of clean fresh drinking water for both humans and animals now and into the future is non-negotiable in this country.  Nothing less is acceptable and rightly so.
 

Something old, something new - November 2015 - Peter Burton

The financial situation that dominates activities of the farming community right now is not new.  In the late 1980’s the dairy and sheep industries were in similar straits, compounded by interest rates of 15 – 20%  at that time.

In one sense it was easier to handle then, because the hole being so deep, and money so expensive, there was little an individual farmer could do; it was just a case of box on and hope for the best. 
 

How much nitrogen is too much? - October 2015 - Peter Burton

The rules of the dairy game have changed, and will change again.  As one farmer recently stated “the pressure is relentless.”

For years the supposed demand has been for increased production, regardless of cost, the health of the soil, and the welfare of animals  (despite the original request asking for increased ‘productivity’.)
 

Spoiling soil health to get production is dumb - September 2015 - Peter Burton

The argument that, if coming environmental standards are too tough, production from farms will necessarily decline, factories will close, people will lose jobs and the country at large will suffer, requires careful consideration and a broad-minded approach.

Embodied in that argument is the acknowledgement that, under current production models, with the focus on intensive dairying, the environment is deteriorating.  At least the realisation is there.  Few would argue that continued damage, particularly the effect on water quality, can continue indefinitely.  It must stop at some point.
 

Low cost pasture - August 2015 - Peter Burton

Well volatility may have done its worst, but dairy farmers’ need to grow grass is more important than ever this season.

At a recent farmer meeting an accountant from a large nationwide accounting firm stated that for the last season the two most profitable dairy farmers on his books were those that applied the least amount of nitrogen.
 

Growing more pasture is the future - July 2015 - Peter Burton

The financial dilemma dairy farmers find themselves in, is only in part the result of reduced market returns.  The other reason is the ever-increasing cost of producing a kilogram of milk solids, and that’s been ongoing for many years.

For dairy farmers to remain solvent and retain their equity in animals and land, more milk solids must be produced from grazed pasture. This means growing more pasture, and there is the ability to do that on virtually every dairy property in the country.
 

Magnesium - Cinderella of NZ Agriculture - May 2015 - Peter Burton

“We can no longer afford to think in terms of N P and K; we must include S and Mg.” This statement is from an article titled, Magnesium – Cinderella of NZ Agriculture, written 50 years ago by M.R.J. Toxopeus a scientist at the Ruakura Research Centre.

The continued application of superphosphate containing more sulphur than phosphorus, and the inclusion of elemental sulphur where necessary, has largely attended to sulphur requirements since then, but little has been done to address magnesium deficiencies.
 

Why dolomite in autumn saves time and money - March 2015 - Peter Burton

In the past, when dairy income has been tight, withholding autumn fertiliser has been seen as a valid means of containing costs.

But is it a sound option?  Farmers that spent less on feed last spring, without reducing animal numbers, are reporting fewer cows in-calf than usual.  Empty cows are a real extra cost that will impact negatively on next season’s production.
 

What they don't want you to know - February 2015 - Peter Burton

It’s hard to believe, given the amount of fertiliser involved, but based on verifiable figures permanent pasture production here in New Zealand has steadily declined since the late 1970s/early 80s.

Not new information, it’s been stated and published before, while the rebuttal has been an unconvincing, “the measuring is done differently now, so the figures don’t relate.”
 

More product for less cost - January 2015 - Peter Burton

The required Nitrate N leaching levels that dairy farms will have to meet in future will be calculated by Overseer, and the model at present assumes that all urine contains the same concentration regardless of the type of feed eaten.

To meet the allowable leaching levels the focus will need to shift from overall milk production from ever expanding herds, to fewer cows/herd, and  maximising individual  cow production.
 

Why spring's been less of a challenge for some - December 2014 - Peter Burton

As one farmer client stated “this spring has been a challenge”, and he’s referring specifically to pasture growth over the last three months.

In the cooler areas of the Bay of Plenty, and the pattern by most accounts has been similar country wide, there’s been a few warm bright days, interspersed with yet another band of buffeting chilling souwesterly winds.
 

Lower payout unmasks the real problem - November 2014 - Peter Burton

The simple remedy for a lower dairy payout is to produce more kilograms of milksolids, but in nearly every situation that works only if the extra is generated from pasture.

To produce more from pasture an increase in the total amount grown is required.  And the unpalatable truth is that annual pasture production is on a steady decline and has been for the last twenty years.
 

Enjoying family gatherings - October 2014 - Peter Burton

A report of Dairy NZ’s recent annual meeting quoted Dairy NZ director Alister Body as saying that he was apprehensive about going to social gatherings knowing someone might “have a go” about dairy farming.

Chief executive Tim Mackle was also quoted as saying that the industry acknowledged it used to be naive but that was years ago.  “We have moved on from the time when we were damaging the environment unashamedly.  We know what we are doing now and are continually trying to improve how we conduct our business.”
 

A near perfect start to the season - September 2014 - Peter Burton

A welcome dollop of warm rain has activated spring.  It’s as though a switch has been flicked, perhaps not for everyone but for those areas that experienced a dry frosty August spring growth has erupted.

Accelerated growth has also brought a dramatic change in farmer mood, from one of increasing nervousness to relaxed calmness.  The early part of the season is underway and grazing routines and conservation plans can now be activated.
 

Is science missing the point? - August 2014 - Peter Burton

Our experience of late is that if data is not from a science fraternity initiated project, collected by trained technicians, and evaluated by scientists with the same belief systems then the information is Invalid.

Our focus has been on measuring pasture growth rates and Nitrate N under grazed pasture on intensive dairy properties applying total nutrient programmes where fertiliser N for the last ten years has been almost entirely replaced by increased beneficial fungi and bacteria activity.
 

What old cars and urea have in common - July 2014 - Peter Burton

My love of cars and enjoyment of driving stems from the exquisite sense of freedom achieved as a result of purchasing my own vehicle as a teenager.   Summers of picking up hay provided sufficient money for the restrictions of push bikes and unreliable bus services to be released.

At that time a new car entering the neighbourhood was a special event, but it was the smell that indelibly etched itself into the memory.  New cars of 50 years ago had a unique pungency of fresh polish, new rubber, and hot oil quite unlike any today.
 

Why tweaking the old doesn't work - June 2014 - Peter Burton

We read with interest the results of pasture and farm performance at Lincoln University and the Ruakura Research Station when fertiliser nitrogen inputs are reduced.

Where fertiliser nitrogen is used as the driver of pasture growth logic dictates that when less is applied growth is reduced, and from the figures we see that is the result.
 

When less produces more - May 2014 - Peter Burton

It’s not run-off into waterways from pastoral land that’s the greatest concern it’s what’s coming out the bottom into aquifers that’s the major contaminator and the quickest and most effective way to stop that is to cease tipping it in the top.

Nitrogen constitutes 78% of the air that we breathe, the top 20cm of pastoral soil holds 5,000 – 15,000kgN/ha.  There’s no shortage of the stuff, it just has to be used more efficiently.
 

Securing the future - April 2014 - Peter Burton

Beneath every long term successful business is a foundation, something that regardless of the inevitable ups and downs ensures not only survival but prosperity.

Underpinning the dairy industry is the steadily increasing demand for protein in the form of milk, cheese, and other highly nutritious protein products derived from pasture.  It’s a strong industry and with competent management at all levels a rosy future is guaranteed.
 

Why accurate measures are essential - March 2014 - Peter Burton

For fertiliser products and programmes to claim they are backed by science the results must be consistent, predictable, and repeatable, and it goes without saying that they must provide measurable benefits.

There’s a further consideration and that is short term benefits at the expense of the longer term, essential when considering the environmental impact of any product.
 

A way through for dairying - February 2014 - Peter Burton

The Government appointed Commissioner for the Environment, has again criticised the government’s fresh water policies, saying they are inadequate for the maintenance of present water quality, and there is little in the national policy for fresh water management that would prevent the dire 2020 scenario in her report on water quality presented last year becoming a reality.

Amy Adams the Environment Minister rejected the criticism and said the commissioner seemed to be deliberately forgetting that every council will be required at a minimum to maintain water quality.
 

How competent farmers handle dry weather - January 2014 - Peter Burton

“Why is it that dry spells are no longer a bother?”  It was a rhetorical question, more a case of thinking out loud and an answer wasn’t expected or required. 

Pastoral farmers have no guarantee of rain on an as and when required basis and they enter the industry knowing that for best results they must work with the weather and develop strategies and skills that enable them to cope with fluctuations in pasture growth that occur every year. 
 

Building something better takes effort - December 2013 - Peter Burton

It’s easy to criticise people, organisations and systems but it takes time and real effort to build something better.

The superphosphate industry has been heavily criticised for producing crude out dated product, the performance of which has required the short term prop of regularly applied nitrogen.
 

Ignoring it won't make it go away - November 2013 - Peter Burton

It’s been called the “elephant in the room”, and a “ticking time bomb”.  The ‘it’ is nitrate nitrogen in ground water and there are several reasons why it’s so important and an issue that requires immediate attention.

The lead article in The Press on October 22nd carried a warning from Alistair Humphrey the Canterbury District Health Board medical office of health that “a baby could die if nitrate levels were not more tightly controlled…”
 

Bugs can't handle big clover - October 2013 - Peter Burton

An article on the development of clover by AgResearch published in November 2003 starts with following.  “If there is one thing New Zealand couldn’t do without, it would have to be white clover.

While it doesn’t seem like an obvious one for the top 20 list of “essential survival items,” white clover-based pastures underpin most of New Zealand’s milk, meat and wool production in a quiet unassuming way.
 

Bigger clover and less bloat - September 2013 - Peter Burton

We grew up believing that clover caused bloat, and there was no substitute for horsepower when it came to Bathurst, with the way to increased horsepower being a bigger engine and more fuel down its throat.

I remember an experienced farmer telling me that adding potash to super was like increasing the octane rating of petrol, and more potash did indeed appear to grow more clover but the incidence and severity of bloat also increased.
 

Nitrate-N harmful to babies - August 2013 - Peter Burton

“Nitrogen in groundwater, in the form of nitrate, is monitored for health and environmental reasons.  Excessive levels of nitrate in drinking water have been linked with blood disease in infants (commonly known as ‘blue baby syndrome’).”   Ministry for the Environment July 2012

The Nitrate-N levels currently in our water are not high enough to harm infants, however based on the same Ministry for the Environment document the Nitrate-N levels in our groundwater since 1995 have steadily increased.
 

Why all growing systems are essentially 'biological' - July 2013 - Peter Burton

Over recent times there has been much debate around the topic of ‘biological farming’.  As little if any nutrient enters a plant without first going through a biological process, all growing systems regardless of the label applied to them are essentially biological systems.

The most important issue presently, and is the one at the heart of the debate around different growing systems, is the use of fertiliser nitrogen.
 

Improving drainage during winter - June 2013 - Peter Burton

Having recently returned from time in the South Island, the benefits of farming in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty become very obvious.

Our climate is generally better suited to intensive pastoral farming.  Apart from the West Coast rainfall is more plentiful and is spread more evenly throughout the year.
 

Why soil fertility is much more than just a mathematical equation - May 2013 - Peter Burton

If soil fertiliser requirements was just about putting soil test numbers into a spread sheet that spat out a nutrient recommendation which was both effective and efficient, life would be very much simpler. 

There would be little if any discussion on the merits of different products, whether liquid fertilisers replaced solids or are best used in conjunction with, or whether the cheapest form of nutrient provides better value than a higher priced product.
 

Why nutrient inputs demand a rethink - April 2013 - Peter Burton

There are a number of certainties we all live by and right now the two that spring to mind are: future weather patterns cannot accurately be predicted, and dry spells are eventually followed by significant rain.

A philosophy that we adopted years ago and is the basis of all sound long-term wealth building programmes is that buying quality results in a much better long term outcome than buying the cheapest.
 

Nutrient balancing after the rain - March 2013 - Peter Burton

There are positives after the dry spell, as well as money to be saved.  We often talk of compensatory growth after a prolonged dry spell, and this is nearly always the reality.
 
The first lot of rain after this dry will turn paddocks green, everyone will relax a little, however it’s not until the second lot arrives 10 to 14 days later that grass starts to really grow.
 

Why the time to feed supplement is after the rain arrives - February 2013 - Peter Burton

Regular measures over a number of years from properties where nutrient programmes are based on DoloZest and CalciZest, show rapidly growing spring pasture to be around 20% dry matter, which is why what appears to be quite large volumes of pasture can be devoured in a short space of time by hungry stock.

Dry summer pasture can be a little over 30% dry matter, with most of the available feed within 10cm from ground level.
 

Predicting pasture performance - January 2013 - Peter Burton

On a recent trip I had the pleasure of visiting two dairy farms with very expensive plant and buildings, fastidiously managed with the goal of maximising production by removing or at least minimising the impact of as many variables as possible.
 
Production on a per cow basis was outstanding and the owners and operators we met rightly proud of their operations
 

Better quality with higher production - December 2012 - Peter Burton

There is a widespread misconception that improving the quality of what we grow and produce from the land will result in lower volumes. This argument is used by supporters and users of conventional growing systems to justify a regime that increasingly struggles with the speed and magnitude of the changes now required. 
 
The production of a healthy plant, animal, or person is always greater than a less healthy one.  So too with soil, healthy well-structured biologically active soil will always produce more than a semi-sterile, compacted piece of dirt.
 

Why models are not all bad - November 2012 - Peter Burton

We have spent the last twenty years focused on soil fertility particularly fertility under grazed pastures and there are still times when parts of the picture are cloudy, sometimes even decidedly murky.

For an individual farmer or general farm consultant to be able to decide on the quantity of nutrient to be applied this spring, particularly deciding on whether the phosphorus input, should it be required, be applied in the form of rock phosphate, locally made single superphosphate, or perhaps DAP requires a great deal of information and a sound understanding of soil and plant requirements.
 

How improved soil structures lower fertiliser costs - October 2012 - Peter Burton

One of the functions of a healthy soil is the recycling of nutrient for plant uptake, and as soil becomes more efficient at holding onto nutrients the requirement for costly fertiliser input reduces.

The ability of soils to retain applied nutrient is based on a number of factors with good physical soil structures perhaps the most important, and physical soil structures can be measured accurately using Graham Shepherds Visual Soil Assessment developed here in New Zealand.
 

How fertiliser Nitrogen applied now may cause your land to devalue in the future - September 2012 - Peter Burton

I was approached recently by a dairy farming family passionate about their farm and dedicated to the dairy industry.  Their concern was the steadily escalating cost of producing milksolids and the rapidly declining amount paid for them.

Specifically they were concerned about the cost of their fertiliser programme which included the cost of urea.  Although they said those costs were not rising rapidly they had drawn a link between fertiliser and what seemed to be declining pasture production.
 

Why the Support of Others is Important When Making Changes - August 2012 - Peter Burton

There is one question nearly every child asks prior to their first day at school, “what if the other kids laugh at me?”

And that’s normal, and sensible.  We all like the support of our peers and learning is fastest when there are others to bounce ideas off.

Even as adults when contemplating or making changes from the accepted ways of doing things we like to discuss them with those closest to us.
 

Growing More With Less Fertiliser Nitrogen - July 2012 - Peter Burton

What if the increasing quantity of nitrogen fertiliser being applied is resulting in declining pasture production?

Generally since the 1960’s an increase in pasture growth has been achieved by increasing the levels of all the major growth nutrients.  And not applying fertiliser will result in low fertility plant species again dominating pastures with maximum pasture production of around 10 tonne/ha annually.
 

Reducing the Workload in Spring - June 2012 - Peter Burton

There is a school of thought that dolomite should not be applied in situations where soil calcium levels are near ideal because dolomite as well as containing 11.5% magnesium also contains 24% calcium.

In theory that appears sound, however the reality is quite different.  In situations where soils have been limed this autumn it is almost inevitable that plant available magnesium levels will have declined.
 


Surviving Winter to Enjoy Spring - May 2012 - Peter Burton

The following information will provide farmers with the ability to grow more feed in spring.  For those who don’t enjoy winter, there’s the added benefit of getting to spring in a better frame of mind.

Our first few years of pastoral farming were spent close to the coast where grass usually grew strongly until mid-May with signs of spring growth as early the first week in September.  And among those one hundred days there were periods of warmth when grass showed encouraging signs of wanting to grow. 
 



Abundant Choices - April 2012 - Peter Burton

Properties using DoloZest based nutrient programmes are currently looking forward to winter with well-conditioned cows, excellent pasture covers, and record levels of supplement; a comfortable position from which to decide when to finish milking this season.

There are a number of reasons for these advantages.  The base of DoloZest is Golden Bay Dolomite, New Zealand’s most effective magnesium fertiliser, containing a wide range of naturally occurring trace elements.
 



The Importance of Sulphur - March 2012 - Peter Burton

With focus steadily shifting away from phosphorus as the driver of pasture growth particularly on the low anion storage capacity (ASC) pumice based soils in the Bay of Plenty, at Eco-Logic Soil Improvement we are increasingly asked about sulphur and its importance.

Sulphur is a component of protein and therefore an essential element for optimum pasture performance.  A technical sheet released some years ago by the Whatawhata Research Centre stated, “Sulphur is essential for plants and animals.  Approximately 10 -15kg S/ha/year is removed by animals.  Further losses can occur by leaching, especially on low S retentive soils.”
 



Energy and Digestibility Come Together - February 2012 - Peter Burton

The recent feedback from Eco-Logic Soil Improvement dairy farm clients using  DoloZest /CalciZest based soil fertility programmes is that this season if not the most productive to date, certainly rivals any in the last fifteen years.

Pasture growth rates from our monitor property near Edgecumbe have provided the following grass growth figures for the last four months.  October 71kgDM/ha/day, November 67kgDM/ha/day, December 71kgDM/ha/day, January 74kgDM/ha/day.

With approximately 55kgDM/ha/day required to fully feed cows there has been surplus to conserve for possible use later in autumn, however, given the rain due in the second half of February it is more likely to be fed in winter.
 



A Summer to Savor- January 2012 - Peter Burton

It is not often that pastoral farmers enjoy climatic conditions that deliver outstanding farm performance for a prolonged period.  December and January have provided, for the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, a wonderful mix of the moisture and sunlight necessary to provide both high growth rates and excellent feed quality.

The Berryman’s dairy cows at their Awakeri property on the 18th January were producing 2.0kg of milksolids per cow per day and gaining weight, with an average condition score of over 5.  The reason for this level of farm performance is due to a number of factors, with outstanding daily animal and pasture management being the most important.
 



Timing is Everything - December 2011 - Peter Burton

Soon after purchasing our first farm a neighbour informed us that we should be wary of working in with the neighbour on the other side when it came to hay making as he nearly always managed to get his hay wet.   It had happened so frequently that it had become part of the local folk lore.

Our observation was that he always planned to cut at the start of a forecasted period of fine weather, but because his gear was stored under old macrocapa trees and had not been serviced since last used it inevitably took two or three days to drag it out and get it functioning again.  By then the next spell of wet weather was closing in and invariably rain arrived before baling.
 



Quality and Quantity in the Same Basket - 21st November 2011 - Peter Burton


Farmers often dismiss the option of changes to their soil fertility programmes on the basis that they would very much like to grow better quality feed and produce higher quality milk, meat, or whatever else it is that they are growing, but they can’t make changes as they cannot afford to grow less.

One of the principles of any soil based growing system is that quality and quantity come in the same basket, a principle that every pastoral farmer observes the evidence of on a daily basis.
 



Summer Pests and Soil Conditions - 19th October 2011 - Peter Burton

An important concept to grasp is that clover flea and weevil, along with grass grub and beetles of various colour arrive in abundance because conditions favour them.  These conditions typically come with warmer late spring and early summer temperatures.
 
Every season the pest pressure varies with some seasons bringing more of one and less of another.  This is because each year our climatic conditions differ from previous.
 



More for Less - 9th September 2011 - Peter Burton

Is each individual farm’s financial viability becoming increasingly delicate with the demand for ever- increasing farm production?
 
We have a client, previously a farm banker who states that the farm clients with the greatest financial surplus each year were those that best controlled their costs.  He also claims that almost without exception these farms were geographically the most isolated, which is another study all of its own.
 



Making Use of Farm Information - 17th August 2011 - Peter Burton

A farmer recently provided a set of test results of soil taken from his property. The Olsen P figures, the only measure of phosphorus reported, ranged from 35 – 70 with the median being 44.
 
With the Confidence Interval of 5 ± 2 for the Olsen test, the area with a test figure of 35 may contain no less phosphorus than that the area with test figure of 70. 
 
If we add to that information the fact that all areas had received much the same amount of phosphorus over the last twenty years, then the median result of 44 may be a more relevant figure.  Historic soil test results and accurate phosphorus input during the time between the tests also helps make sense of test results.
 

Enhancing Natural Systems - 6th July 2011 - Peter Burton

A genuine question by a dairy farmer client was recently asked.  “ If hundreds of kilograms of nitrogen per hectare are required to grow our pasture each year and we are only applying 20kg/ha as fertiliser where does the rest come from?”
 

The Future of Soil Fertility - 15th June 2011 - Peter Burton

One of the great advantages of working with family owned and operated farming enterprises is the historical perspective they are able to provide and of late there has been an increased discussion regarding pasture production now compared to the late 70’s and early 80’s.
 
Those of us that have had the privilege of being involved in pastoral farming for that period of time or longer are aware that although total farm production, particularly milk solid production from dairy farms, has increased significantly since 1980 this does not necessarily reflect a similar increase in pasture production. 
 

An Hour in the Paddock - 19th May 2011 - Peter Burton

At 3.15 in the afternoon a high producing, and still milking, herd of dairy cows were contentedly grazing a fresh break of pasture.  Content because most were simply standing and grazing with jaws working at single speed, close to 50 bites per minute. Overhead conditions were cloudy, with brief chilly showers, and just the odd patch of direct autumn sunlight.
 
A high fibre high-energy supplement had been fed out yet pasture was preferred.  Admittedly the haylage was not the best quality this herd has dined on but certainly good quality filler.
 

Change is Challenging - 18th April 2011 - Peter Burton

With a reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus leaching required, and regulation imminent, many in the rural community have concerns. Fundamental change in any system when forced by regulation is at best messy. 
 
An acceptance that change is necessary, the resources necessary for seamless change, and a reasonable time frame in which to implement, are prerequisites for fundamental change in our farming systems to occur.
 

Dolomite - Providing a Foundation - 10th March 2011 - Peter Burton

Dolomite because it typically contains 24% calcium and 11.5% magnesium, both in the carbonate form, has a liming (pH modifying) effect when applied to soil. 
 
As a result beneficial soil life is stimulated.  It is very difficult to measure beneficial soil microbes as we don’t know a great deal about what is there or what ought to be there and by the time the counting process is underway populations will have changed.
 

Reducing Nitrate Leaching - 17th February 2011 - Peter Burton

The water we presently have is the only water there is.  Water can be treated and filtered in all manner of ways however as clean fresh drinking water is crucial to our long-term enjoyment of life, good health, and ultimate survival, maintaining the quality of it is the best option.
 
There is genuine and well founded concern by some farming leaders regarding the survival of intensive dairying in the sensitive lake water catchment areas of the Bay of Plenty.  The nitrate leaching levels that will need to be met will be markedly less than present.
 

Decision Making Simplified - 14th January 2011 - Peter Burton

The rule is simple, feed magnesium to cows prior to calving and calcium after, or is it?  We grew up with the knowledge that feeding magnesium prior to calving helped with the release of calcium from the animals own reserves.
 
As cows got older and bones hardened calcium availability declined and the likelihood of metabolic disorders increased.
 

Hay and Silage Paddock Fertiliser - 7th December 2010 - Peter Burton

We receive calls and emails from customers asking what they should apply to hay and silage paddocks after harvesting.  There are a number of factors to consider before reaching an answer.
 
The potassium content of pasture is typically around 4%, with phosphorus around 0.4% or one tenth that of potassium.  Potassium is the element removed in the greatest quantity and therefore the nutrient most commonly replaced.
 

Applying Simple Logic Can Provide Answers - 7th November 2010 - Peter Burton

The logic is sound but could the premise be wrong?  Nitrogen is an essential growth element as are calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and a number of other elements.
 
The absence of one or more will limit growth, however does simply applying more of any single element necessarily increase total growth over a twelve-month period?
 

The Importance of Mycchorizal Fungi - 13th October 2010 - Peter Burton

With fundamental changes now taking place in the way in which soil fertility is viewed there is an increasing demand for nutrient programmes that deliver at least as much pasture production without the need for regular applications of fertiliser nitrogen.
 
These programmes already exist and are practised widely throughout New Zealand.  They are based on information and experience gathered over decades of work here and overseas.
 

Clover the Best Option for Summer - 20th September 2010 - Peter Burton

Pasture provides the lowest cost feed and thirty years ago we were told that it was a total feed, nothing else was required.

It became apparent, particularly during spring when wet and cold dominated and each minute of direct sunlight was savoured, that increased energy made available to stock was rapidly devoured and often resulted in improved performance.

At that time there was no easy measure of plant energy nor were there any well-publicised techniques for increasing the amount of energy able to be converted by plants.  Pasture can vary markedly in energy from one property to another depending on nutrient inputs and management.
 

Improving Soil Drainage Naturally - 20th August 2010, Peter Burton

Drainage is the topic uppermost in many farmers and growers minds right now.  The rainfall during the last few weeks has exceeded the ability of a number of drainage systems.

The rain has been relatively warm, sparking quite strong growth, with soil temperatures even in the coldest areas of the Bay of Plenty regularly exceeding 10°C.
An average daily soil temperature of 10°C is the temperature required for nutrient availability high enough to provide increased pasture growth.
 

Easing the Pressure at Home - 11th July 2010, Peter Burton

One of the most notable benefits from the DoloZest and CalciZest based soil nutrient programmes is the reduction in mud and pasture damage during winter.

The ability to stand heavy animals on pasture during periods of heavy rain with little soil damage is due to steadily improving physical soil structures resulting from regular applications.
 

Enhancing Natural Soil Systems - 19th June 2010, Peter Burton

The concept that natural systems tend to wellness is for some difficult to understand and comprehend when so much of our work in any farming system is based on preventing illness and dealing with unwanted pest and disease.

Fear is a very strong emotion that drives much activity.  It seems that taking action to prevent something undesirable that may or may not occur is a stronger motivator than taking action to enhance desirable outcomes.
 

The Importance of Soil Humus - 13th May 2010, Peter Burton

Humus  The more or less stable fraction of the soil organic matter remaining after the major portions of added plant and animal residues have decomposed.  Usually it is dark in colour.
The Nature and Properties of Soils 13th edition Brady Weil

A simple field test comparing the colour of the topsoil under a long-term existing fence line with the same depth of soil from a representative sample of a grazed area indicates whether a soil is gaining or losing humus/carbon, or relatively neutral. 
 

Enhancing the Performance of Dolomite - 13th April 2010, Peter Burton

Dolomite mined at Mt Burnett near Collingwood comes to the North Island via a number of routes.  In the 1950’s dolomite was transported from Tarakohe to Wanganui using a scow.  Scows are relatively small flat-bottomed vessels capable of being grounded on the beach, loaded, and floated off at the next high tide.

More recently most of the dolomite has been trucked the 40km from the mine near Collingwood to Tarakohe where it was loaded into barges and towed to the Port of Wanganui.
 
 
Risk Free Fertiliser N Alternative - 21st February 2010, Peter Burton
 
With the almost inevitable increase in the price of conventional fertilisers, many long-term pastoral farmers and horticulturists are attempting to evaluate the claims of companies offering more eco-friendly, sustainable, and cost-effective products.

There is likely to be an element of truth in the claims made by all sellers of ‘fertiliser’, however as there is no single product that meets all nutrient requirements there are two questions that can be asked.
 
 
Intensive Low Stress Farming - 21st January 2010, Peter Burton.
 
Experience provides a unique perspective. Regular nitrogen fertiliser use and the feeding of high-energy supplements are recent developments in dairy farming, little contemplated or used prior to 1990.

Prior to 1990, the key management consideration was matching cow numbers, calving dates, and feeding levels, with natural grass growth patterns. Financial success was largely dependant on the ability to get that equation finely balanced.
 
 
Dolomite, Unique and Dependable Performance - 10th January 2010, Peter Burton.

With the growing awareness that soil fertility is primarily driven by calcium, as well as the importance of magnesium for robust animal health, dolomite from Golden Bay is once again becoming the preferred autumn magnesium fertiliser for many farmers nationwide.

During the 1960s and 70s when there appeared a greater appreciation of the importance of the farming to the financial well-being of the nation the cost of the cartage component of dolomite to farm was subsidised.
 
 
Growth Rates Monitored - 7th December 2009, Peter Burton.
 
The three properties that Eco-Logic Soil Improvement monitors have produced fascinating results for the month of November.

Galatea (irrigated)     88kgDM/ha/day     (79% increase over November ’08)
Reporoa                   79kgDM/ha/day     (20% increase over November ’08)
Edgecumbe              76kgDM/ha/day     (22% increase over November ’08)

 

It's OK to Look! - 17th November 2009, Peter Burton

Farmers that increased cow numbers this season are now lamenting the fact that this was not the season to have done so, and they are right.

Spring growth has been markedly less than usual and there is insufficient time in November to make up the shortfall.

 
 
Fully Feeding: A Forgotten Art? - 20th October 2009, Peter Burton
 
Why is it that some farms have throughout the last three months had plentiful pasture to feed their herds whilst neighbouring farms have applied nitrogen, and bought in feed?

The answer is obviously not climatic. Management is the correct answer.

 

Reducing Dependence on Nitrogen Fertiliser - 24th September 2009, Peter Burton

Uncertainty still surrounds farm incomes over the next twelve months however all the signs are presently positive, so the worst possible scenarios of 6 months ago appear to be dissipating.

Fertiliser is expenditure able to be reduced or eliminated, with many farmers taking one of the options in autumn. Farms with a good history of nutrient inputs are able to withstand periods of no nutrient input without markedly jeopardising pasture production. How long depends on the factors of soil storage capacity, total soil nutrient, soil condition, and production demands.

 
 
Low-tech Solution to Increasing Pasture Energy - 12th August 2009, Peter Burton
 
The level of energy in pasture plants during spring has a marked influence on the total season’s production.

Cows that do not lose weight after calving are able to produce more during the coming season. It is simply more efficient to maintain or gain weight during lactation than losing it in spring and attempting to gain it again at some other time.

 
 
Replacing Fertiliser Nitrogen Without Pain - 20th July 2009, Peter Burton
 
On an increasing number of farms during the last six seasons fertiliser nitrogen has been reduced or completely removed without any loss in pasture production and with an impressive range of benefits.

Nitrogen is an essential element for plant growth and when any growing system has become dependent on regular applications of fertiliser nitrogen, the rapid removal of part or all will result in less growth.
 

 
Getting Best Advantage From Soil Biology - 17th May 2009, Peter Burton
 
It has often been said that what grows above the ground is the visual manifestation of what grows below.
The most productive soils are those with the best physical structures and the greatest amount of humus.
DoloZest, the unique soil improver form Eco-Logic Soil Improvement, speeds the breakdown of litter on the soil surface, improves physical soil structures and increases humus formation.

 

Stimulating Growth with DoloZest - 24th April 2009, Peter Burton

All of the intensive dairy farm feed budgets viewed recently indicate pasture covers to be lower than desired for this time of the year. This is not surprising because until very recently in most areas there has been insufficient rain for optimum autumn growth.

With soil temperatures still around 15°C there is still the possibility of strong growth before the end of May. Much will depend on how quickly cold southerlies follow warm northerly rain.

 
 
A New Era in Fertiliser/ Nutrient Inputs - 24th March 2009, Peter Burton
 
The current price of imported phosphorus and potassium are such that for many farmers they are unaffordable, at least at the traditional autumn application rate.

The advice being given by some advisers, and obviously taken seriously by many farmers, is to not apply this autumn and wait until prices drop in spring.
 

 
Sympathetic Farming Systems - 18th February 2009, Peter Burton
 
The vast majority of farmers appreciate the privileges of land ownership are balanced equally with the responsibility to nurture that fragile resource, and manage their farms accordingly.

Eco-Logic Soil Improvement have developed products and systems that enable farmers to enhance the effectiveness of applied nutrient, reduce leaching losses, and sequester carbon, while steadily increasing pasture and animal production.

 
 
Encouraging Autumn Growth - 26th January 2009, Peter Burton
 
December growth rates on our monitor properties were back to normal or better after slightly lower than usual spring growth.

With cages yet to be cut it is anticipated that January growth will be modest due to rainfall providing less moisture than that lost through evaporation.

 
 
Lessons From a Difficult Spring - 17th December 2008, Peter Burton

Spring and early summer growth this season has been less than normal, feed quality lower, and unless there is substantial rain soon summer will again be drier than ideal.

There are lessons to be taken and the first lesson is that we have no control over climatic conditions, and each season provides us with a unique mix.

 
 
The Benefits of Adding Extra Bugs - 23rd November 2008, Peter Burton

The question voiced by some and probably thought by a great many more is “why add extra bugs to the soil when it is already teeming with uncountable numbers?”

The answer is that, provided the ones being applied are beneficial and supported by sufficient food and minerals for their establishment, as is the case with those incorporated in CalciZest and DoloZest, the results are always positive.

 

Normal Spring Growth? - 25th October 2008, Peter Burton

Pasture growth during the second half of October appears to have been slower than hoped for, however until we have cages cut, grass weighed and growth rates calculated we won’t know by how much.

Fertility patches both dung and urine have been quite marked and clover samples taken recently may provide us with some useful information.

 

A Change in Focus - 20th August 2008, Peter Burton

With the cost of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulphur about double that of last year the need to change focus may well pay dividends.

Often the number of animals on a property is a figure arbitrarily decided on with little regard to the ability to feed those animals particularly during winter and early spring.

 
 
Changing Fertiliser World - July 2008, Peter Burton

With recent massive price increases in traditional fertiliser products containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulphur, there are now two words that should be foremost in the mind when deciding on any fertiliser product, effectiveness and efficiency.

 


 
Contented Animals Becomes a Talking Point - 24th July 2008, Peter Burton

We’ve walked through dairy cows in late afternoon two weeks prior to calving and received no special attention.  Most have remained sitting and ruminating, with a small number finishing the last few blades of grass available, and not a sound apart from the steady breathing of content heavily pregnant animals.


 
Whakatane Beacon Article - July 2008, Sven Carlsson

EDGECUMBE share-milker David Law has increased his grass output by 26 per cent in five years– by walking away from urea.

“We started off using urea and growing 14 tonnes of dry matter per hectare – we’re now growing 17.7 tonnes,” he said.

“I’m growing more grass than I ever have.”

 

 
DoloZest and Humus Building - 23rd June 2008, Peter Burton

Misconceptions can be sometimes be difficult to change particularly when they have originated from organisations or people who we regard as authorities.

The misconception that is of greatest concern at present is that pastoral farming is a net polluter and farmers will therefore need to purchase carbon credits at some point.

 


 
Improving Fertiliser Efficiency - 23rd May 2008, Peter Burton

Monitoring over a period of years indicates that properties where DoloZest has been applied regularly are benefiting from steadily increasing total pasture and animal production.

The application of the essential elements phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, calcium, and magnesium are essential for maximising pasture production and hence the profitability of pastoral farmers.

 

 
Providing for stock in winter - 23rd April 2008, Peter Burton

At the time of writing most areas have received substantial rain during the last month and the lighter ash soils in the Whakatane, Rotorua, and Taupo regions are now sufficiently moist for strong grass growth.

 

 
Conundrum for some - 31st March 2008, Peter Burton

A recent newspaper article stated “New measurements by Landcare Research show that some soils have lost up to 21 tonnes of carbon/ha, and up to 1.8t of nitrogen.”

The same article also contained the following paragraph, “Roger Parfitt, Landcare Research, says scientists are astounded at the size of the losses in carbon and nitrogen when they sampled the old Soil Bureau sites in 2002 to 2004, but don’t know whether it happened in the last 10 to 20 years or whether it’s a continuing change.”

 

 
High Energy Pasture - 27th February 2008, Peter Burton

Application of DoloZest with autumn fertiliser will boost overall production. Cage cuts from the monitored dairy farm at Edgecumbe showed total growth for the twelve months to the end of August ’07 to be 17,668 kg DM/ha.

That’s a 26% increase over the 14,000 kg DM/ha grown on the property the year previous to our involvement 4 years ago. The 14,000 kg DM/ha figure was achieved with the use of 100 kg N/ha.

 

 
Maximising Autumn Growth - 23rd January 2008, Peter Burton

The quantity of feed grown in autumn and early winter will largely be dictated by three factors; soil moisture, temperature, and biological activity.

Soil moisture, unless irrigating, and soil temperature are largely outside our control, however soil biology and physical soil structures can be positively influenced.

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