Dairy passes speed test

A NEW 50-bay rotary dairy has been officially opened as part of a research project that will test the effectiveness of reducing fertiliser levels on farms. The rotary dairy is part of a $7.8 million upgrade at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture’s research facilities at Elliot in the North-West. The project has been jointly funded by the Tasmanian Government and the University of Tasmania to support future success of TIA’s research farms in the North-West, including the Forthside Vegetable Research Facility.

It has given Tasmania one of the best dairy research facilities in the country. TIA Director Professor Michael Rose said Tasmania had an opportunity to lead the nation in contemporary research and innovation to support the dairy industry. “This is state-of-the-art technology and has been delivered in super quick time, six months ago this was just a paddock and a huge amount of work has been done and research work starts next week,” Prof Rose said.

Alongside the 50-bay rotary dairy the upgrades include a new 12.5 megalitre effluent dam, increased irrigation water storage capacity in one of the dams from 24 to 115 megalitres, 11 kilometres of underground irrigation pipeline, and the conversion of 32ha of previously unirrigated land for farmlet trials. The modernised milking parlour will provide better facilities for supplement feeding research and automated collection of research-quality cow feeding, production, health, and welfare data.

“It has been especially designed with an underpass to enable researchers access to the centre of the rotary to conduct herd testing without interfering with the operations,” TIA Livestock Production Centre Leader Dr James Hills said. “The new parlour will also have milk meters for every stall, walk-over scales, a body-condition scoring camera and an individualised feeding system.”

Work was fast-tracked to ensure the farm was operational for the start of the milking season in August to enable a five-year research program co-funded by Dairy Australia. The property is being divided up into four farmlets or ‘mini farms’ with 1ha paddocks situated over 32ha. Each will grow a different pasture species and allow testing of fertiliser types and amounts to determine which is the most efficient. This will enable researchers to test hypothese under real farm conditions and ensure the results provide practical solutions for farmers. Up to 370 cows are expected to be milked.

“Fertiliser is extremely expensive at the moment so we want to limit that as well as the amount of nitrogen going into the ground,” Mr Rose said. “The idea is to see how we can reduce fertiliser use up to 30 or 40 per cent while maintaining production.”

The $6.5 million Dairy HIGH 2 (high integrity grassfed herds) project will focus on pasture-based dairy systems and seeks to address industry challenges and opportunities to achieve highly productive and profitable dairy operations that are sustainable into the future. It is a five-year partnership of strategic importance to Australia’s dairy industry. “

The research at Elliott has become more relevant over the past 12 months, with high input costs and the need to better understand major nutrients like nitrogen,” Dairy Australia Managing Director Dr David Nation said. “We’re pleased to be part of this research program to help farmers in Tasmania and other pasture-based regions in Australia. It is through multi-year commitments to research that we can build on our successes as a dairy industry.”

Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer said the research facility provided opportunities for the industry, researchers and those who have not considered a career in the dairy industry.