Impact of introducing a herb pasture area into a New Zealand sheep and beef hill country farm system: a modeling analysis
New Zealand is well known for export of meat and dairy products from low cost pastoral systems. These farm systems are continually evolving for increased efficiency, in part through the use of metabolic energy modeling tools by farmers and farm consultants to explore alternative farm system configurations and identify new efficiencies. One recent innovation is the introduction of a herb pasture area, such as plantain. We used metabolic energy modeling to quantify seasonal feed flows in two successive years in a New Zealand hill country farm system, and to analyze the impact of the introduction of an area of plantain. Models employed were a self-built Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and a commercial New Zealand farm systems modeling package, FARMAX. Herbage production, animal performance and financial results for a base farm scenario created from the average of survey data for hill farms in the southern North Island, and the same farm with 10% and 20% of the area in plantain for the years 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 were modeled. The self-built model performed similarly to the commercial model. The system configuration of the base farm stockpiles surplus autumn feed for release to animals in winter and also incorporates flexibility that confers resilience to interannual weather variation through varying dates animals are purchased or sold. The introduction of an area of plantain was predicted to increase herbage production, animal performance and financial returns. The predicted benefit was higher for the year 2010–2011 where a drought occurred in summer than for the following year with higher summer rainfall. This demonstrates the profitability of introducing a plantain area to New Zealand hill farm systems, and suggests plantain will assist to mitigate adverse effects of warmer and drier summer conditions associated with current climate change trends.
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