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Buffer solutions were something I first met at school chemistry lessons. I can’t remember what we did with them but I met them again when I looked after a school swimming pool. I think they stabilised the pH. Swimming pools will be the last thing on most Manawatu dairy farmers’ minds, because the climate has been so miserable.

The farming sector has borne the brunt of the depressing spring, firstly with rain and floods and then the drying easterlies. The soil temperatures have been so low that grass growth has been poor and those planning to put in maize have had to hold off for a while. The continuation of the slow growth has created unusual situations for most farmers, who have had to feed out silage or some form of supplement where possible. Those that have done nothing and just accepted the consequences find themselves with low production, thin cows and poor reproductive performance.

Every season has its patch of poor growth but this season has never got up to speed. Traditionally the dairy farmer does autumn feed budgets, sets the stock numbers and plans to get through to mid October. At this point the rush of grass means control measures have to be taken. Not this year. Little silage is being made on milking land.

As dairy company payouts rise there seems to be awareness that sitting back and letting the season’s climate take control is no longer acceptable. We have to plan for BUFFERS, so that when the difficult times come before the farm has spare grass, we are prepared.

When doing our budgets and setting our cow numbers what buffers do we have available? Grass cover is one, but quality has to be watched and the drawn out nature of this season’s grass deficit has negated that one. Cow condition is another, but that too has been used up. Culling cows that are not performing in some way can be done, but the numbers are needed if and when the grass does start to grow. Nitrogen has a place but the quality of nitrogen feed is coming into question. Meal is expensive, so the old faithfuls of hay, silage and maize are coming back into vogue, the latter two especially.

The price of carrying a few tons of extra feed is far less than the damage that can be done to the season’s production, the season’s mating and the cows’ condition. If the feed is unused in the spring then good use could be made of it in the autumn or even in the next season.

Obviously planning to have a buffer is the solution.

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