Climate and Pasture

The temperate climate of Uruguay, with its mild winters and hot summers, is closest in temperature to Northland of New Zealand. Rainfall, which averages around 1,200 mm per annum, is reasonably well distributed throughout the year with more rain in summer and autumn compared with winter and spring.

Uruguay has a total area of 17.6 million hectares with 16.8 million hectares (95 percent) devoted to cattle, sheep and cropping compared with 15.6 million hectares of agricultural land in New Zealand (58 percent). Despite the total land area being only two thirds the size of New Zealand, Uruguay’s farmed area is greater due to the very high level of utilisable land.

The landscape is mostly flat to gently rolling, rising to a highest point of 513 metres. This contrasts with New Zealand’s landscape which is predominantly mountainous with some large coastal plains.

Extensive cattle and sheep grazing is the main farming activity and most of the grazing land is unimproved native pasture, amounting to 11.8 million hectares. Farms over 3,000 hectares occupy 31 percent of the agricultural area and have historically been the main forage base. They offer huge potential for development with cultivation and the introduction of new species.

 

 

There are around 11.6 million cattle and 10.3 million sheep in Uruguay at June 2007, compared with 9.6 million and 40.1 million respectively in New Zealand. While cattle numbers in Uruguay have been rising gradually the national sheep flock has been trending down rapidly from around 25 million in 1990 in response to the reduced demand for wool.

The last census in 2000 showed that the country has approximately 32,000 livestock farms, (somewhat fewer than New Zealand’s 47,000). Of these farms the 9 percent that are over 1,250 hectares carry 51 percent of the stock.

Once a major supplier of beef to world markets, the Uruguayan livestock industry has until recently stagnated. Over the last 2 or 3 years there has been upward pressure on land prices. This has arisen mainly from investment by neighbouring Argentinean investors for crops such as soya beans.

 

Improving the productivity of Uruguayan native pasture

Despite Uruguay being only two thirds the size of New Zealand, Uruguay’s farmed area is 11% greater due to the very high level of utilisable land, most of which is in unimproved native pasture. Uruguay dairy farming is traditionally grass based grazing with supplementary feed provided at the dairy shed to cover variations in pasture production. Little or no reticulated water is provided in the paddocks and the cows obtain their water from natural sources and at the dairy shed, unlike New Zealand which is intensively watered through reticulation to troughs throughout the farm.

 

Native pasture in Uruguay is highly responsive to New Zealand style intensive pasture management through the application of a 6 point New Zealand farming system;

1. Pasture Species: New improved pasture species are sown using direct drilling, initially using annual ryegrass as the base for the first one or two years and then a tall fescue based permanent pasture is established once weed competition is eliminated. A summer crop such as sorghum augments feed in the summer pinch period and helps with weed control.

2. Capital Fertiliser: Phosphate is applied to raise available phosphate to at least 20 ppm, typically applying 300 kg per hectare of a super phosphate equivalent product supplying 60 units of elemental phoshate per annum. (available phosphate of native grassland is around 4ppm). This promotes grass growth, increases drought resistance, brings forward spring growth and extends the growing season.

3. Subdivision: Paddocks are subdivided to control pasture growth, particularly in the spring, and to increase utilisation of what is grown.

4. Water Reticulation: Water troughs are installed to ensure that cattle have access to drinking water at all times.

5. Stocking Rate: Additional high genetic worth cattle are introduced to utilise the additional feed produced.

6. Maintenance Fertiliser: Once new pasture is established, production is maintained through annual phosphate and urea dressings.

 

Traditionally managed Uruguayan farms with native grasses produce less than 4,500 kg dry matter (DM) per ha per annum. The first two seasons of operation have been challenging climatically, however data collected for the period between July 2008 and February 2009 has demonstrated a 115% increase in fescue based permanent pasture production under irrigation on the company owned El Monasterio demonstration farm. Pasture growth this year is expected to be around 15,500 kg DM/ha on irrigated land and 8-9,000 kg on dry land. Ongoing improvements are anticipated through management of pasture productivity and soil fertility, and further irrigation.

Applying New Zealand farming expertise in South America

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