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Northerners notice technology benefits

Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Bryan Beeston speaks to North Island farmers during the technology tour. His daughter Frances is at right.

Canterbury farms leading the way in the use of technology to raise production were on show to farmers from Taranaki, Waikato and Manawatu recently.

Four farms in Mid and South Canterbury were opened for the farmers during a tour organised by bankers ANZ New Zealand.

As the country's largest agricultural lender, the bank hosted the tour to highlight the benefits of investing in cutting-edge robotic technology to obtain the best results.

Canterbury farms were leading the way in adopting high-tech solutions to boost farm production, Graham Turley, the bank's commercial and agri managing director, said.

''We're proud to be involved in helping other farmers gain from their expertise and experience first-hand the benefits investing in technology can bring,'' he said.

A cow stands contentedly to be milked by a robotic machine at Camelot Robotic Dairy Farm. Photos by Maureen Bishop.

''Agriculture is increasingly about running a good business and number eight wire will no longer cut it. Farmers are making serious investments in robotics and other technologies that make a real difference in enabling large-scale, environmentally sustainable farms to produce even higher returns,'' he said.

Each of the four farms, Pannetts Dairies Ltd, Turley Farms Ltd, Camelot Robotic Dairy Farm, and Riverholme Robotic Dairy Farm, were selected because of the innovations adopted and results achieved so far.

Owners of Camelot Farm at Anama, Bryan and Annette Beeston explained the workings of the farm which breeds milk Holstein Fresian and brown Swiss cows but it was their daughter, Frances who spoke enthusiastically about the milking of 560 cows by eight A4 Lely Astronaut robotic machines.

High lactating cows average between two and a-half and three and a-half milkings a day, while others average between one and a-half and two and a-half milkings per day.

Training the cows to enter the shed for the robotic milking took a lot of patience, Frances said. Water was turned off in paddocks, forcing the cows to seek it at the shed. Once they had been trained to enter voluntarily, the water was reinstated in paddocks.

Microchipped collars allow the cows to open gates and head for the shed. They are rewarded with food and after milking, gain access to fresh pasture.

If cows were underfed, they would come in early; if overfed they would not come in, so getting the feed balance right was important, Frances said.

Bryan had a word of advice for his counterparts from the north:''People that go into robots love cows, not the technology,'' he said.

The farmers saw a 950-cow stalled barn at Pannetts Dairies at Intima, All stock feed was cut and carried to the barn, allowing a high level of control over nutrients delivered. The cows were milked through a 60-bale rotary dow shed.

At Pleasant Point, the tour visited Riverholme Robotic Dairy Farm where they saw De Label robotic machines used to milk 300 cows. Cows were grazed outside on pastures and the farm was trialling pasture mixes to minimise nutrient discharge from cows.

It also used a unique automated calf-feeding system.

The fourth farm on the tour was Turley Farms at Temuka. A range of cereal, seed and vegetable crops were grown on more than 4000ha. The company has invested in processing and packaging, and played a lead role in the construction of a flour mill in Timaru. The farm uses variable-rate irrigation, yield-mapping and crop-management systems.

- Maureen Bishop