Soil health focus to reduce on farm costs

By Dairy News

KIMBER FARMS are five years into an eight-year plan to reduce the use of synthetic fertiliser on its Bega dairy farm.

The business milks 1200 cows and calves all year-round.

The herd is split in two – the early lactation herd (less than 220 days in milk) is run across pasture first to ensure it consumes the better quality feed while the second herd comes along after and cleans up what is left.

Todd Whyman helps run the family business along with his parents-in-law Ken and Judy Kimber.

He said the business had been focusing on soil health for the past five years.

“We run the farm with a biological focus, we are not organic but we are aiming to cut our nitrogen use right back to help reduce on-farm costs,” Mr Whyman said.

The business is focusing on using its own farm resources of effluent and compost (with some corrective additives) to improve soil health.

“We wanted to utilise the nutrient base we have on farm and it is something we have been focusing on as a priority over everything else for the past five years.”

The irrigation system — a centre pivot, travelling irrigators and solid set irrigation — is all capable of having liquid effluent pumped through it.

“With all the effluent and compost we produce, we shouldn’t really need any other inputs,” Mr Whyman said.

The manure is run through a separator screen and the solid manure is mixed with old bedding from the calf sheds and composted.

Mr Whyman is deputy chair of the local dairy development group and is passionate about spreading his knowledge on reducing synthetic inputs.

He recently set up a 5ha trial plot on the farm to see the effects compost and effluent can have on pasture growth.

The trial was set up on land that hadn’t seen fertiliser for at least 30 years and consisted of a control plot, a conventional plot and additional compost and effluent plots.

“Each plot was split in half to enable us to compare results and, five weeks in, there is an extreme difference – the compost and effluent plots have at least 60 per cent more pasture cover.

“We set this plot up for our own peace of mind but I am keen to share what we do with others and this trial creates a tangible thing for others to look at.

“As we all know dairying is getting harder and harder as costs continue to rise and whatever we can do to keep those costs down is very important.

“Something like this is sustainable and can help all dairy farmers,” Mr Whyman said.