University farm in new territory

Last updated 11:10 12/07/2013
LUCERNE
LUCERNE: A deep-rooted forage plant that can capture water from depth during a dry summer.

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The focus day for the Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF) strayed into new territory as researchers explored the feasibility of lucerne grazing for dairy farming.

Lucerne research is being carried out by the Lincoln University Research Dairy Farm, another operation on the university campus about two kilometres apart from the LUDF.

The research farm, milking 190 cows on 55 hectares and soon to expand by a further 19ha, provides research to develop a more profitable and sustainable dairy system.

Farmers at the focus day learned about research looking at the effect of supplements at different grazing "residuals" – the grass levels after being grazed by cows – and updates on low and high stocking rate efficiency at its farmlets.

New work is considering the potential for grazing lucerne in the Canterbury dairy system. Lucerne is a more water-efficient crop and in combination with other pasture species could redefine how farmers think about grazing forages.

Lucerne is expected to be more relevant for partially irrigated farmers or operations with a water source that could close off, as happened with the Waimakariri irrigation scheme this summer, or for schemes placed under new restrictions.

In a water restricted environment lucerne can produce more dry matter from less water and could provide an alternative in the summer to other pasture species still needed in cooler shoulders of the season.

Dryland lucerne can produce yields of 14 tonnes a hectare compared to 8t/ha for ryegrass and white clover pasture and up to 28t/ha for irrigated lucerne.

Dairy farms are known to be using lucerne in Canterbury and Takaka.

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