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Cow-feed scale tips to turnips

Published on 24 October, 2006, Last updated at 10:45 GMT

By Chris Gardner

Rising on-farm costs and a lower-than-normal predicted payout from Fonterra is causing Dryland Contracting to more than double the amount of turnips being planted for cow feed.

Jonathan Dryland, managing director of the Eureka-based contracting firm, said his staff were planting 1000ha of turnips on Waikato farms this season compared to 400ha last year. The main drivers, he said, were rising fuel costs, and the $4.05 payout per kg of milksolids Fonterra was predicting this season.

The contracting company is using a cross-slot drill to plant 3kg of turnip seed per ha - one of only a handful in New Zealand - which is more economical than traditional cropping since it eliminates the need for ploughing before planting. Each hectare yields between 12 and 18 tonnes of dry matter.

The cross-slot drill also saves on fuel, which has rocketed from 50c a litre three years ago to $1.20. Fertiliser, which farmers are trying to stem via nutrient budgeting, is also minimised since it is injected into the ground with the turnip seed instead of being broadly applied across the whole paddock.

"The cost of putting crops in for farmers has doubled," Mr Dryland said.

"One drive and the job is done, which is the biggest reason we see farmers doing this.

"With maize you have to have a forage harvester, truck feed-out wagons and silage bunkers."

Turnips were popular a generation ago, but fell out of fashion.

"There's been a big swing back to a lot more turnips. They're about a third of the price (of maize) to put in."

Many farmers were growing turnips, which are fed to cattle in January and February, to supplement their maize, which is fed in September and October.

Mr Dryland said farmers who grew turnips would enjoy a continuity of high nutrient feed at a low cost.

"By doing it they can have a very economic system with no tillage.

"These days they need to be focused on saving every dollar. They are reducing their spend because they are not getting paid much. Farmers are trying to push their farms to the limit."

Dryland contracting has two cross-slot drills and cross-slot planters, which each cost around $250,000 each.


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