Read our case studies below, and if you have any questions, or would like to chat about how we can make a difference for you please get in touch today.
|Case study – Hazeel Downs Farm|
Lifting Queenstown performance
Queenstown farmers Chris and Emma Dagg have an extra spring in their step these days. Their animal performance has increased, their clover levels have lifted and their pasture pests have reduced dramatically. And all this happened within the tough 2015 / 2016 season.t that time the vines required high fertiliser, trace element, fungicide and herbicides inputs to produce a viable crop. Some of the blocks had high vigour with poor fruit ripening, and some blocks were uneven in growth and ripening, causing major headaches for the owners. ‘If you saw the farm in 2011 you wouldn’t have believed this was possible,’ says Chris.
Despite his upbeat approach to life, Chris started feeling fed up with farming. Like many farmers, he’d been applying Sulphur Super, lime and Potash each year.
But it wasn’t working any more. His spending was increasing, production was dropping, manure was slow to break down and pasture performance was poor. The thistles were never ending and they seemed to take more chemical to control.
So he started looking into regenerative agricultural practices.
After a bit of research Chris started a solid fertiliser program in 2011 to balance soil base saturations. Along the way he discovered several articles written by Nicole Masters an Agro-Ecologist, educator and academic who specialises in regenerative agriculture.
Chris attended a soil health field day run by Nicole at David Crutchley’s property in Central Otago. ‘I was immediately inspired,’ he says.
In 2015, Chris invited Nicole to Hazeel Downs to identify the farm’s major limiting factors. She conducted a thorough assessment; examining animal performance, testing leaf herbage, and carried out soil mineral and microbial tests.
Nicole discovered that Chris’s soils were ‘sleepy’; meaning they had poor microbial activities, thatch and there were a lot of pests. Some spots were dense with mealy bug and a spade spit uncovered 27 clover root weevil and 2 porina. Chris was shocked to find he had more livestock eating pasture underground than on it.
Nicole compiled an extensive report providing recommendations around infrastructure and bio-fertiliser.
After talking with Nicole, Chris’s enthusiasm for farming returned. ‘‘Nicole is independent,’ says Chris, ‘So she recommends what is best for the farm and us. She’s is not out to push products to make a quick buck. She is passionate about what she does and is incredibly knowledgeable.’
In Autumn Chris started applying bio-fertiliser and biocontrol agents and by spring-time the monitor sites had 80% more clover cover. ‘I was amazed at how quickly the clover weevil disappeared,’ says Chris. When summer came there was less lower quality browntop as well.
‘Nicole’s visit and recommendations were invaluable’, says Chris. Insect pests were decreasing and the beneficial soil biology was improving. Monitoring is continuing to ensure bound nutrients are unlocking, manure and thatch is breaking down and pasture palatability is improving.
In the second half of 2015 the farm suffered from below average rainfall. Only 2mls fell in the month up to mid January 2016. The conditions challenged farmers across the region and many struggled to meet lamb weight targets. So Chris was happy to get 30% of his lambs away at first draft.
‘This year’s ewes were in the best order ever at lambing time. They had more grease in their wool. All of the ewes and the lambs were a rich caramel colour too.’
The future looks good
Chris and his family are excited about the coming year. Regenerative agriculture is not just about the soil; Chris and Emma are now implementing a rotational system using electric fences rather instead of set stocking. There are animal health trials underway to find the most cost effective solutions to worms, with early results are already yielding animal weight gains.
The Dagg’s want to continue to improve the quality and performance of their stock. They aim to continue reducing their chemical inputs as much as possible and produce top quality nutrient dense meat. They are well on their way to meeting their goals.
|Case study – Kokako Vineyard|
The Kokako Vineyard is situated in the Ohiti Valley Hawke’s Bay with 100ha of vines of mix varieties split over two sites ranging from silt loams to heavy river gravels. Integrity Soils started working alongside Bruce Nimon and Kokako Farms in 2006 prompting them to look at how they could move from a high input chemical, calendar driven system towards a pro-active soil-first approach.
At that time the vines required high fertiliser, trace element, fungicide and herbicides inputs to produce a viable crop. Some of the blocks had high vigour with poor fruit ripening, and some blocks were uneven in growth and ripening, causing major headaches for the owners.
Due to a long history of cropping the silt loam blocks required 4 to 6 herbicide applications per year; higher than industry norms because of problem weeds like mallow, nettle, prickly pear, and fat hen. Low production in some blocks and high vigour in others was also a grape quality issue for Kokako.
The herbicide was having a marked impact on soil health, with structure-less mossy dead zones.
It seemed pretty clear that the herbicide with a major limitation on this property, but not everyone wants to hear “you need to pull your spray programme!” so we worked with Bruce to trial a block to immediately halve his chemical use. We achieved the same kill rate through the addition of a biological product designed to buffer chemical and increase its efficacy, whilst reducing harm to the soil microbiology (glyphosate is registered as an antibiotic). Removing the permanent herbicide strip from under the vines was the single bigger shift in the grape growing system.
Once the trials showed merit Bruce introduced biological products for vine and soil health, and began to trial other approaches including intervine plantings to build soil health and provide bio-controls.
The benefits from changing this practice were massive with improvements in vine health and grape quality, lifting kokako blocks from Premium to Super Premium.
Other benefits included:
- Better weed control
- Reduction in inter-block variation
- Ripening completion more consistent
- Vigour reduction
- Reduction and elimination in some cases of nutrient based deficiencies
- Water stress reduction
- Mealy Bug reduction in the canopy
- The return of EARTHWORMS!
- Reduction or removal of trace element nutrient applications, (boron, calcium, magnesium)
- Removal of all OP’s (Organophosphates): Improved health benefits to staff
- Reduction in total herbicide use. chemical use dropped by 2/3
- Reduction in total number of applications (11% reduction in passes)
- Reduced production costs
- Number of passes decreased
- Overall profitability increased.
A recent MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) study of North Island Vineyards revealed that the cost reductions per ha put Kokako into the top most cost effective vineyards in the North Island.
Bruce is an absolute pleasure to work with; he has taken on his programme with an open and critical mind. He always wants to see the results and the research, which is great, as he keeps us on our toes.
In our experience, the key to success (and the biggest limiting factor) for any biological farming system is a land manager’s ability to observe, enquire and build a thirst for knowledge.