Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
RESEARCH ARTICLE

The potential of diverse pastures to reduce nitrogen leaching on New Zealand dairy farms

P. C. Beukes A D , P. Gregorini A , A. J. Romera A , S. L. Woodward A , E. N. Khaembah A , D. F. Chapman A , F. Nobilly B , R. H. Bryant B , G. R. Edwards B and D. A. Clark C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A DairyNZ Ltd, Private Bag 3221, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand.

B Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Lincoln University, Christchurch 7647, New Zealand.

C 2 Callard Place, Hamilton 3216, New Zealand.

D Corresponding author. Email: pierre.beukes@dairynz.co.nz

Animal Production Science 54(12) 1971-1979 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN14563
Submitted: 9 May 2014  Accepted: 4 July 2014   Published: 2 September 2014

Abstract

The largest contributor to nitrogen (N) leaching from ryegrass-clover pasture based dairy farms is the surplus feed N excreted as urinary N (UN) onto pastures. Pastures consisting of mixtures of ryegrass, herbs and legumes (diverse pastures) have shown potential to yield similar DM, but with a lower N content and a higher water soluble carbohydrate : crude protein ratio compared with standard ryegrass–clover pastures. These diverse pastures have shown the potential to lower the UN excreted by dairy cows in short-term, late-lactation studies. This modelling study was designed to scale the results from component studies up to farm and over a full season to evaluate the potential of diverse pastures to become a suitable strategy for reducing N leaching on New Zealand dairy farms. The Molly cow model was tested against observed data from one indoor and one outdoor study where feeding diverse pasture resulted in UN (N excreted in urine g/day) reductions of 50% and 17%, respectively. The model predicted UN reductions of 23% and 17%. Farm-scale model scenarios, where 20% or 50% of the farm was sown with diverse pastures, resulted in 2% and 6% reductions in UN deposited onto paddocks. This reduction was smaller than expected with some system interactions related to seasonal feed supply, diet composition and total N intake being likely to play a role. The reduction in UN onto paddocks, together with a dilution effect from larger urine volumes per cow per day as a result of lower DM% of diverse pastures, resulted in N leaching reductions of 11% and 19% for the two scenarios, respectively. This potential to reduce N leaching needs to be evaluated further in the context of farm profitability when other aspects of diverse pastures such as yield, persistency, drought resistance and ability to extract N from the soil becomes part of the farm-system analysis.

Additional keywords: farming systems, mixed pastures, modelling, multi-species pastures, urinary nitrogen, urine dilution.


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