Ashburton Zone Committee Field Trip - Is the grass greener?

Peering at a patch of grass might not be some people's idea of fun but the Ashburton Water Zone Committee members were fascinated by the variety of pasture on offer at a Westerfield dairy farm, as part of a field trip.

There about 7 different species in this particular pasture.

There are about 7 different species in this particular pasture.

The committee visited Align Clareview's regenerative farm system, which aims to improve soil health, biodiversity and have less environmental impact.

Its Head of Environment and Innovation, Clare Buchanan, is one of the committee's new members and co-hosted the tour.

When it comes to pasture, the cows in the regenerative system get to dine on a range of mixed and diverse species within one paddock, including chicory, plantain, clover, lucerne and ryecorn.

The animals graze the paddock to a much higher residual height than conventional grazing, to protect the soil and its root structure and reduce run-off to waterways.

Field trip benefits

Chief Executive of Align Farms, Rhys Roberts said, as well as offering the animals a more varied diet and boosting biodiversity - bringing back native bees, birds and bugs - regenerative agriculture lowers reliance upon conventional synthetic inputs like fertiliser.

"We're proud to have a lower impact on our community and to be putting some more options out there in front of people in the industry. It's all about finding a better balance - maintain a living but lowering our impact."

Sharing learnings

Weekly data including supplements fed, milk production, and pasture growth, is uploaded on the farm's website for all to view.

"We're happy to share what we're learning as a working farm transitioning to more regenerative practices - and we are definitely still learning in this area. We've had 20 years of conventional farming experience and only about 20 minutes of regenerative farming!"

Clareview's transition to regenerative farming started in the 2019-20 season and, after encouraging results, Align decided to conduct a trial and put 50% of the farm into regenerative pastures for comparison.

Simple measures pay off

Committee Chair, William Thomas, said initiatives like those at Clareview Align, highlighted simple measures, like the introduction of diverse pasture species and increasing the grazing round length, that could collectively make a big difference in the catchment if other farms got on board.

"It's so valuable to see what can be achieved on a commercial farm, rather than within a more traditional scientific setting. Sharing their data, feedback and practices so openly with the farming community is just the attitude we need to get positive change happening."

The trip to Align was part of a full day outing to explore the challenges and opportunities for better water quality in the Ashburton. A jam-packed itinerary, which focused on some of the key issues the Ashburton Water Zone will be acting on next year, gave the members more detailed technical information as well as valuable first-hand insights from people in the community.