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Securing A Future For NZ Pastures

 Farmers, scientists and rural industry leaders are meeting in Waikato later this year to start mapping out a secure future for New Zealand pastures.

The Resilient Pastures Symposium (RPS), organised by the NZ Grassland Association (NZGA), comes 10 years after the association’s landmark Pasture Persistence Symposium.

With agriculture currently earning more than 40c in every NZ export dollar, those behind the event say pasture – and innovative thinking about its prospects in coming years - has never been more relevant.

Pasture is a significant global advantage for NZ, but faces increasing pressure from climate change, environmental regulation and social and market expectations.

“The uniqueness of NZ’s high value animal protein exports – their embedded naturalness and low per unit emissions compared with competitor countries – rests on our pasture base,” says RPS organising committee chair David Chapman, principal scientist at DairyNZ.

“We want to make sure our market strength continues to grow from this base, because that is critical to NZ’s economic future.”

The 2011 Pasture Persistence Symposium gave rise to significant new pasture R&D and industry-led initiatives, including the highly influential DairyNZ Forage Value Index.

NZGA president Warren King, senior scientist at AgResearch, says 10 years on, climate change effects signalled in 2011 have intensified, and the physical environment for growing pasture is more challenging and volatile than ever.

But other challenges that barely registered then are now competing for the attention of researchers, plant breeders and farmers alike.

Environmental regulations are putting caps on nutrient inputs and losses from pastoral systems. GHG emissions are being considered, with emphasis on reduction.

Social and market expectation around the way animals are farmed and treated are now part of the farming landscape.

“And all this needs to be done using less land, with more trees being planted and better exclusion of waterways.”

David Chapman says in this context, all the signals suggest NZ grassland farmers will need more information and support over the next two decades than at any time in the past.

“So there is urgency to pinpoint the critical knowledge gaps and get to work on filling them. That’s what the symposium will focus on.

“Pasture persistence is still a key part of the programme, but the scope of this event has broadened to pastures that are resilient, and capable of playing their key role in meeting coming challenges.”

The RPS will highlight current soil, plant genetics and management solutions, and look towards future opportunities, giving those who attend a chance to contribute to charting future priorities, he says.

A key goal for event is to achieve broad-based primary sector collaboration and direction for further pasture development.

It also seeks Government and industry recognition of the pressing need to invest in future proofing pastures for the good of all New Zealanders.

The two-day programme will feature peer-reviewed research papers and a range of keynote presentations, including strong focus on farmers’ own experiences and observations.

Equally important will be Q&A sessions, and a future-focused workshop to scope required industry action.

The NZGA Resilient Pasture Symposium will be held 11 and 12 May at Karapiro. Earlybird registrations open 1 March at www.grassland.org.nz.

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