Monday, May 20, 2013

Nitrate Leaching Overview

Today I give a overview of nitrate leaching.

What is Nitrate Leaching?

What type of farming leach the most Nitrate?

How nitrate leaching from dairy farms is different from cropping & horticulture.

Well, gidday. My name is Glen Herud and today I want to talk about nitrate leaching and basically just give you a run-down on what nitrate leaching is about, and then later on I am going to talk about how we can start farming systems that have low rates of nitrogen leaching.  

Weed & Algae need both Nitrogen & Phosphorus in Order To Grow

So basically, if we look at water quality issues we've got two things. We've got nitrogen and phosphorus and what causes algae blooms and sort of algae build ups in our waterways.  What happens is if you have just phosphorus, pretty much nothing happens. If you've got just nitrate in the water systems, then pretty much nothing happens as well. But if you've got the two together, that's when these algae growths take place.  So, I won't worry about phosphorous today but we'll talk about nitrate today.

Who Leaches the Most Nitrate?

So, a few figures are that if you're a veggie grower, if you're a market gardener, the statistics show us that you will leach around 177 KGs of nitrogen per hectare per year.  If you're a cropping farmer, that's weeds and those sorts of things, you'll do 61 KGs per year.  If you're a dairy farmer, you'll leach around 65 KGs a year. If you're a humble old sheep farmer, you'll do 21 KGs of nitrate per hectare per year.  What that means is that basically this excess nitrogen filters out of those farming systems. and it's basically draining out the bottom of the soil.  When you look at cropping and these veggie growers, basically they are as a result of excess fertilizer, basically nitrogen fertilizer. They put a heap of fertiliser on and that fertiliser is going through the soil profile. 

85% of Nitrate Leaching From Dairy Farms Comes From Urine

But the dairy industry is different.  85% of all nitrates or excess nitrate from dairy farms is from urine.

So that's not urine from cows standing in a river urinating

and it's not from the urine in dairy effluent either

But every time we hear about environmental impacts from the dairy industry, that's all we hear about.  But they are not actually the issues. 

The main one is cows standing out in the paddock, urinating

Urine Patch Contains Equivalent to 800kg Nitrogen per Ha

Here's what happens. Basically, here is a cow. This is a bit of a funny cow.  She's a Friesian so what she does is she urinates into what you call a urine patch, which is about the size of a dinner plate. Within that dinner plate, there are 800 KGs of nitrogen per hectare. So there is an equivalent to 80 KGs of nitrogen per hectare. So the way I think of that, to make sense of it is if you take a hectare, which is a football field and let's say we had a way of getting all these cows lined up so they all urinated at once and all the urine patches covered one whole hectare.  If they all urinated at once, that would be applying 800 KGs of nitrogen per hectare at once. 

Average NZ Dairy Farmer Applies 150-200kg Nitrogen per Ha per Year

To give you an indication of how much that is, your average dairy farmer does around 150 to 200 KGs of nitrogen per hectare per year.  They will do that over multiple small allocations of fertilizer.  So, what I want to sort of get through to you is that there is a heck of a lot of nitrogen in a urine patch.  What happens is that if you think about grass. I don't know, what we got? Five, six, seven grass plants within a urine patch? They've got their roots systems that go like that, probably around 30 centimeters deep.  So what happens is the nitrogen comes in via the urine and while it's in the soil it turns into nitrate.  It can be absorbed by the plants.  If you look at this picture here, you can see these dark green patches in the paddock there. Those are fertility patches.  They are either feces patches or urine patches. What's happened is that those grass plants there, have as much nitrogen as they can get and they've bolted away and they are nice and dark and green. 

The Few Grass Plants in a Urine Patch can't Absorb all the 800kg of N

The problem is that there are 800 KGs of nitrogen being applied. Well, a heck of a lot of nitrogen will be applied and those few little plants, there is absolutely no way they are going to be able to absorb all that nitrogen. There is far too much.

What happens is the nitrate attaches to water molecules, H2O, because nitrate is soluble in water.  Those water molecules filter down through the soil profile and drain away and they take the nitrate with them. Once they get below the roots’ depth of the plants, they can't get absorbed.  It keeps on going, all the way down, until it gets into our groundwater. Then it ends up in our waterways.  So that is very simply how nitrate leaching takes place.  Essentially, excess nitrate that isn't absorbed by the plants ends up filtering through the soil profile and getting into our groundwater. 

There are a couple of things that affect the rate of nitrate leaching.  One of them is your soil profile. If you've got nice, well I shouldn't say nice, if you've got free draining soils that are kind of rocky, the water flows through those soils much more quickly.  So, obviously the nitrate flows through quicker. If you've got heavier clay soils, then the water sort of sits there more and therefore the nitrates sits there more.   The amount of water in the soil profile affects the rate of nitrate leaching. What happens generally is during the summer lots of nitrogen is sort of applied and it sort of sits there in the soil and then winter comes along and we get all this wet weather and it all sort of leaches out through the winter.  What's the other thing that affects nitrate leaching? Oh, your plants, your root depths. If we can get plants that have twice the root depths, then there are obviously twice as much time for them to absorb nitrate. That's a very brief rundown. It will probably horrify a few scientists but that sort of serves the purpose of what we need to explain today. 

So the next little while I'll start talking about how we can farm differently in ways to reduce our nitrogen leaching cap or nitrogen leaching rate. If you have been following the news you'll see that regional councils are starting to sort of propose nitrate caps, so saying that you can only leach around 25 KGs of nitrogen per hectare per year.  Obviously, if you are a potato grower, they would horrify you and dairy farmers are equally worried about how they are going to be able to farm and meet that sort of a target. That's what I want to talk about in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dairy Farm Staff And The Shocking Rate Of Employee Turnover

In this video I continue to discuss dairy farm staffing issues. I reference three reports into dairy farm employment.

The first is a report by Dairy NZ called Smarter Not Harder, Improving Labour Productivity in the Primary Sector

The second is a report written by Gillian Searle in 2002 called The Reality of a Career in the Dairy Industry, An Employee’s Perspective

These two reports found that:
  • 50% of dairy staff have been in their current job less than 1 year
  • The average length of service for a dairy farm employee is less than 1 year
  • 1/3 of dairy staff leave the industry every year!

The third report written by Richard Kyte's "A different approach to staffing in the dairy industry" attempts to show that increasing staff numbers actually increased his farms productivity and profitability.


Well, gidday. Glen Herud here again and I am going to carry on talking about dairy farm staff. Last time I said that only a small percentage of New Zealand population are prepared to work on a dairy farm simply because of the long hours involved. 

Today I want to talk about a report that was released by Dairy NZ in 2009 I think, called “Farming Smarter Not Harder.” They had some interesting figures.  

  • They said that 50% of staff had been in their current job less than one year.  
  • The average length of service, so that's the average time people stay with an employer was less than one year. 
  • 1/3 of dairy staff leave the industry every year.

These figures are also backed up by a report written by Gillian Searle way back in 2002, and she found that 59% of staff that she surveyed had been in their current job less than six months. 
These are figures from the dairy industry. These aren't figures from an anti-dairy group. These are their own figures. This shows a horrendous amount of staff turn-over. I can't even imagine trying to run a business where the majority of your staff aren't there for a full year. There is no continuity or anything.  So, these figures surprised me quite a bit. 

Average Staff Turnover in NZ is 20%. NZ Dairy Turnover 40% 

Now, take a look at this graph. This is from the “Working Smarter Not Harder” report.  If you look at the bottom line there that's the New Zealand average around 15 to 20%. This is for staff turn-over.  The blue line at the top is the staff turn-over for the New Zealand dairy industry. As you can see, it fluctuates wildly from down 25% up to 40%, and it's exactly the same every single year.

If look there, September seems to be the time where everything peaks and it's no surprise to me that September is right at the end of calving after people have worked for two months, doing 60-70 hour weeks; they leave.  

750 Cow farm has 4 staff

If we look at what it looks like at a current dairy farm, if you've got 750 cows here in Canterbury. I've said last time that you have about one staff member to 180 cows. So that equals four staff.  Another way of looking at it is one staff member to 75,000 KGs of milk solids. If you have 750 cows doing 75,000 KGs of milk solids that equals four staff. That equals 300,000 KGs divided by 75,000 equal four staff. Essentially that is three employees and one boss. 

So what does that actually look like actually on the farm? 

I am assuming we've got a 60 bale rotary with automatic cup removers and centre pivot irrigation.  Two staff are going to be required to milk and they'll start at 4 am. They go 5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12pm, 1, 2, 3, 4. They'll go through to 5p.m. 

They will have lunch at one and breakfast at eight for an hour.  So that's an 11 hour day. Essentially, one person is always going to be off because they'll have their rostered day off. Depending on what the roster is, it depends what part of the week you have a full complement of staff, but generally speaking you're only going to have two staff plus the boss. Maybe the boss starts at seven and this will probably rotate around. But anyway the third person starts at seven and they'll go right through to five p.m.  So, basically they've got to milk twice a day and they've got to do other jobs.  

750 cows & 4 staff is fine, as long as nothing goes wrong

So having three people on the farm with maybe a relief milker helping out, that sort of works when everything is going well, when the weather is dry, when nothing is broken, where everything just goes according to plan. But as soon as something happens, like what if one of these guys here gets sick? All of a sudden that puts pressure on everyone else. Or if they just don't turn up which is often the case. As we've just seen, the massive staff turn-over rates, you can see that people are leaving all the time within the dairy industry. When someone leaves and you've got this staffing level, it puts pressure on everyone else. Everyone else is already working hard. They are already doing 11 hours a day, and if someone leaves all of a sudden that just puts a heck of a lot more pressure on them.  

Richard Kyte, "A Different Approach To Staffing In The Dairy Industry"

So, I want to talk to you about this report.  Richard Kyte, he was a sharemilker in Southland and now works for the Dairy NZ and he's also a consultant. He wrote this report called, ”A Different Approach to Staffing in the Dairy Industry.” His introduction says, "I believe that the New Zealand dairy industry is being compromised by understaffing on farms especially larger units of 600 cows or more. This has become a significantly greater problem in the last ten years and specifically on the South Island with larger farms." 

He goes on to say, "As the dairy industry grows, to maintain this growth it must attract and retain people within the industry. To do this, the dairy industry must compete with other industries"

And that's what I was saying last week, dairy is competing with other industries. He goes on and he references Rupert Tipples from Lincoln University and Rupert says that 64% of dairy staff work 50 hours plus.  That's compared to 17% of the general population who work 50 hours plus.  

Richard also talks about Peter Sheehan who is a gen Y specialist. You should Google him. He's got some videos out there. He basically made the comment, "If the dairy industry thought 12 days on, two days off was a good roster it needed to get real. As five days on, two days off was the benchmark." He went on to say, “He's extremely surprised that dairy workers even accepted this.”  Richard goes on to say. “If five days on and two days off is the benchmark then 40 to 45 hour week is also a benchmark the industry should look for.". This comment is interesting. "The drive to reduce hours to date has been mainly from professionals looking in at the industry not from farmers themselves." Ain't that the truth!  

Richard added staff which cost $50,000, but increased turnover by $91,000. $41,000 more profit

So, the gist of what Richard was saying was that he went on and he decided he's going to spend an extra $50,000 dollars. When he was sharemilking on a 600 cow farm, he added an extra labor unit which cost him $50,000 dollars.  As a result of that, he had more time to manage his pasture, so he used the pasture plus system. He had less culls, less lame cows, less mastitis, and as a result of that he brought in an extra $91,000 dollars in extra income and savings. So $95,000 minus $50,000 equals $41,000. So he's still ahead by $41,000 which is about a 80% return. So he spent 50 grand to make an extra 41 grand profit. He spent more money to make more money. 

This is the whole thing, I think the level of staffing we've currently got is a false economy.  I think people think that four staff working on a 750 cow farm is the standard, it’s the benchmark.  But I think that you are losing money in all other aspects of your dairy industry. 

So, the interesting thing about Richard's farm is that he has a staff turn-over rate of two and a half years. So that means that his staff stays with him on average two and a half years and they move on basically because they want to progress in the industry, not because they want to leave dairying.  

So next time I am going to talk about how I would run a 750 cow farm and how I propose to pay for it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Only A Small Number Of People Will Consider Working On A Dairy Farm

There are 60 new dairy conversions going into Canterbury this year. In This video I discuss how this equates to an extra 250 dairy staff been required, and why most "townies" won't even consider a job on a dairy farm.

I'm surprised by the extra staff required, but the numbers seem to be logical.

Please comment if you feel I have got something wrong.


60 new dairy conversions in Canterbury for 2013 season

Hey, well I want to talk about dairy farm employment issues. So staffing, of all the issues that the dairy industry face, finding people to milk the cows is the biggest issue. So I was talking to a cow shed manufacturer. He said there's 60 dairy conversions going into Canterbury this year; and those are new dairy conversions. 

60 conversions x 750 cows (cant avg) = 45,000 extra cows into Canterbury 2013

Now the average herd size in Canterbury is 750 cows, so 60 times 750 equals 45,000 extra cows coming into Canterbury this year alone. That's not including Southland or the rest of the South Island; 45, 000 new cows into Canterbury. 

1 employee : 180 Cows. 45,000 cows / 180 = 250 new dairy jobs required

Now, there’s a rule of thumb, that you need around 180 cows to one labour unit. So 45,000 divided by 180 equals 250 new jobs. So that's actually really good news. We hear a lot about job closures and job losses, but the dairy industry has been charging away for a good part of a decade. Adding a heck of a lot of new jobs to the economy every year.

Where are these extra employees going to come from?

The problem is where are all the people to come from to milk these extra cows? Now traditionally for the last ten years at least, dairy farmers have been employing Filipinos and Brazilians and other international employees to fill the gap.

I was talking to a guy and I said to him - or he said to me, why can't the dairy industry attract all these people from town? And I said because of working condition. Its the hours of work. And people who have read my blog will know what I think about that . And he said, "I don't" -- he didn't except that anyway. He said, "No, no there's are plenty people who will go and work those different hours." And he mentioned people who joined the army and go on fishing trawlers and all sorts of things. So I had a little think about things and I have came up with a theory.

So if we draw a standard old bell curve, I would say that the people who fit into there, these are your 40 hour a week people. That's a majority of the population. A big chunk of people fit in there. People who go to work on a dairy farm are smaller, with much less of a number of people. And I am going to call it 60 plus hours. 

How many "townies" would apply for a "town" Job, if the hours were 4am to 5pm, 9 days on 3 days off?

Now, I'll tell you why I think that. I, as I said before I employ people myself and I run an ad in the paper that says " Customer Service Rep Monday to Friday, 9 AM til 5 PM," and we get heaps of response. And I can be quite picky of who we employ.

But if I put an ad in the paper and said "Customer Service Rep required, 4 AM to 5 PM, 9 days on, 3 days off," they wouldn't even bother applying. Its just totally unacceptable to them, they just couldn't even imagine starting at four in the morning, working all the way to five o'clock in the afternoon and doing that for nine days in a row, then give you three days off.

Its just not - they're not even going to considered it. So these are the people here who wouldn't even consider that. 

Now the number of people who will consider that are much less, a much lower number of people I'd say, about half the of number of people would consider that. 

No surprise, Dairy Farmers struggle to attract and retain staff

And it's absolutely no surprise to me at all that dairy farmer's cant find staff because there's better options. They can go building and start at seven in the morning or eight in the morning.

Dairy industry must provide 40-45 hour weeks

So I believe if the diary industry want to get serious about actually solving their staffing issues, I think they need to move the conditions over to the centre here. So the dairy farm staff need to start working 40-45 hour weeks, and regular weekends off, not just rostered days off. 

In the next video I'm gonna talk about what it would look like for a dairy farmer to transition their staff from sort of the 60 plus hours per week over to the 40 plus and what its gonna cost them. 

And I guarantee you right now, if the dairy industry could do that the majority of the staffing issues will just go away. ...