Improved dairy industry productivity

Fert$mart has produced farm gate profit improvements for Tasmanian dairy farmers by providing accurate soil nutrient maps and advice on changes to fertiliser regimes. This program has been developed over the past five years with 100 per cent of local farmers involved and making changes to their fertiliser applications. Industry wide adoption would see a $10.3 million saved per year.

To support the 440 dairy farms in Tasmania, Dairy Tas and Cradle Coast NRM collaboratively developed a program to improve soil nutrient management in dairy pastures. In 2015, Tasmania produced around 891 million litres of milk, accounting for approximately 9 per cent of national milk output. Over the last five years, milk production in Tasmania has grown over 32 per cent with the estimated value of farm milk production now $442 million (2015) .

In 2010 a trial project was developed that worked with six dairy farmers in the cradle coast region. This project involved full farm soil testing and nutrient mapping with presentations of the results in each farm locality. The soil information was colour mapped to clearly identify the varying nutrient levels across the farm. Based on this this information plus all fertiliser inputs and outputs, a budget of recommended nutrient addition was prepared for each farm. This included a potential fertiliser savings calculation, compared to previous additions of nutrients. This fertiliser saving translated into an estimated $280,000 across the six farms over the two years of the trial. A substantial farm gate improvement to these farms’ bottom line, maintaining production and decreasing run-off to waterways.

The success of this collaborative trial has led to the much broader Fert$mart program being introduced across Tasmania in October 2014. This program is led by Dairy Tas in collaboration with the Australian Government, Tasmanian Government, NRM North, Cradle Coast NRM and NRM South. Under this program, landholders pay for soil testing and the project partners provide access to agricultural advisers to prepare fertiliser and farm management plans.

The Fert$mart program is fully subscribed with 100 farms registered and over 1,271 paddocks sampled by the end of June 2016. Only 3 per cent of dairy paddocks were found to be in optimum ranges for all soil fertility indicators, indicating a substantial opportunity for increased productivity and cost saving via better fertiliser management.

“FertSmart has been very invaluable to our farming business. Measuring and monitoring our soils and fertiliser usage, mapping out a proposed fertiliser plan to correct any nutrient issues and planning the timing of applications has reduced our overall fertiliser usage and wastage which not only saves us dollars but also helps in protecting the environment and animal health”.

Nigel Brock, Dairy Farmer, Montana, Tasmania

The long-term vision for Fert$mart is that the farmer support provided by regional NRM bodies would be the momentum for changed practice and then the commercial incentive would maintain the on-farm activities. This approach is working. This investment has developed the capacity of the farmers and the support industries to fill a crucial gap in the industry. Follow up surveys have indicated that 100 per cent of farmers that have participated in the project have made changes because of Fert$mart. Additionally, some farms are now into their second season of activity and have transitioned to a fully commercial arrangement to continue this approach.

Extrapolating the savings of those first six pioneering producers across the Tasmanian dairy industry there is the potential to save farmers almost $10.3 million / year. The Australian Government investment in natural resource management directly contributes to the first goal of Dairy Tas to support “Profitable and competitive dairy farms” through “improved farm margins” and has led to a direct increase in the profitability and productivity of the dairy industry in Tasmania.  This benefit is on top of the contribution to reduced nutrient run-off and improved pastures providing valuable protection for the regions soils and water ways/resources.