We Can Learn a Lot from NZ Farms; Initiatives to Make Agriculture More Productive on the Other Side of the World Are Winging Their Way Back to the North East. Northumberland Monitor Farmer Simon Bainbridge Was One of 10 Delegates Who Took Part in an Informationgathering Study Trip to New Zealand. KAREN DENT Reports

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Byline: KAREN DENT

AGRICULTURE and forestry fuel New Zealand's economy, providing around 64% of its income.

The country is hot on research to improve the sectors' output from its two main islands, which are just 267 square kilometres bigger than the UK, but only have a population of 4.4 million people compared to 63.2 million in the UK.

Efforts to improve selective breeding, animal efficiency and pasture management came under scrutiny in a 10-day agricultural study trip, organised by LandSkills North East. Simon Bainbridge, who runs the Northumberland Monitor Farm at Donkin Rigg, Scots Gap, near Morpeth, was one of the 10-strong team from the region who went to assess what Kiwi ideas could be brought back to the North East.

He said: "Constantly seeing New Zealand lamb on the supermarket shelves is a bit of a kick in the teeth for UK farmers.

"However, I was very impressed with my trip out to New Zealand. The farms we visited had an incredible breakdown of costings and every last cent spent was accounted for and evaluated.

"This system has been put together between farmers and consultants and I truly believe it is this analysis that contributes to the success of New Zealand's sheep and beef farmers." The trip took in 10 New Zealand farms in as many days and geographically covered the whole of the country from top to bottom.

One of the trip's major themes was how grassland is effectively managed for livestock grazing and there were some key differences and a variety of schemes in place across the two islands.

Grazing systems, fertilisers and stock numbers were all an important part of the mix, with the rotational grazing system used widely across New Zealand.

The system allows pasture to recover and plants to rejuvenate and grow, which Mr Bainbridge noted produced significantly better quality grassland.

But there were major differences in the way this was managed on different farms. Some farmers moved their animals every two days, while other operated a system of Monday morning, Wednesday lunchtime and Friday afternoon, leaving the weekend free of shifts.

On the fertiliser front, lime, sulphur and phosphate were mainly used, with the land being dressed either by plane or lorry. The land was also frequently reseeded.

Mr Bainbridge said the farmers he met thoroughly planned and budgeted for this land management, something he says is not particularly prioritised in the UK.

He is currently using the Farmax Pro computer model at Donkin Rigg as part of the Monitor Farm project. …