The grass-only dairy farm model has become a thing of the past for New Zealand as farmers increasingly turn to supplementary feeds to increase their production.

Off-farm inputs have changed the face of dairy farming over the past decade as farmers turn to palm kernel, maize silage and manufactured feed compounds to get more out of their herds.

In the South Island, off-farm grazing – also regarded as an additional input – has taken off.

Dairy production swelled by 38.3 per cent to 1.66 billion kg of milksolids in 2013 from 1.20 billion kg a decade ago, driven by some bumper years, conversions to dairy from other land uses, and the use of off-farm inputs.

“More and more supplementary feed is coming in through the farm gate – palm kernel and maize silage in particular,” Bruce Thorrold, strategy and investment leader at DairyNZ, said.

“Secondly there has been more expansion in the South Island.”

Dairy NZ data shows that in 2000-2001, about 70 per cent of farms were in the low input category – using just fertiliser and a little extra feed as inputs. The proportion of farms in that low category dropped to 32 per cent in 2012-2013.

Those in the “medium” category – bringing in 15 to 20 per cent of the total feed required – went from 17 per cent to 32 per cent over the same comparative periods.

In the high input category – with 25 to 50 per cent of required feed coming in the farm gate – went from 13 per cent in 2000-2001 to 28 per cent in 2012-2013.

Supplementary fed for cash cows is problematic for NZ because we are importing GE feed, and Palm Kernel Expeller which is increasing deforestation of native forests in Malaysia and Indonesia. Greater intensification of dairy is not just bad for our waterways, but indeed the whole ecosystem.

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Long gone are the days of only pasture fed cows, as are the days of ‘100% Pure New Zealand’. These days we have a farming industry looking for a quick buck at every turn, even if it means polluting the environment and feeding cows genetically engineered (GE) feed.

American farmers are increasingly relying on grain diets for their livestock since it is subsidised by their government and increases productivity thanks to the antibiotics added to grain feed as a growth stimulant. 

If you asked anyone on the street what our cows are being fed, majority would say grass pasture, but as the report states this is no longer always the case. As stated above, the difference between 70% of farms in low input in 2001 compared to 32% in 2013 should start ringing alarm bells. We are changing from a country that differentiates itself from the rest of the world by relying on a clean-green image to a new America where profit comes before all else. If we are to maintain our competitive advantage over the rest of the world, we need to start implementing changes that address the type and amount of supplementary feed farmers can feed stock, especially GE feed of which it’s safety has not yet been proven. Consumers also deserve to know what methods it took for their food to arrive on their table.



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