1. Agricultural consultancy including:
Farm walks with the farmer and farm staff to assess soil/plant/animal health
Soil and herbage testing and interpretation of results
Fertiliser advice for pastoral grazing, cropping, vineyards, tree and vine crops
Effluent management to convert the volatile nutrients in effluent ponds to high quality fertiliser, maximising the nutrient potential of effluent ponds
Farm management recommendations to build soil quality, productivity, profitability, food quality, and the environmental performance of a farm
Inceasing the water-use efficiency of pastures and crops and the drought resistance of a farm
Assessing farm performance by recommending and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs)
Nutrient budgeting for farm and environmental monitoring using soil tests and nutrient monitoring software including Overseer
“I was lucky enough to be introduced to Graham Shepherd (BioAgriNomics) last Autumn which allowed me to for the first time to answer my burning desire of resolving issue's around soil, pasture and animal health which in turn was crippling my business with financial debt. In six months the farm has identified, changed direction and is measuring the benefits of sound advice to make my farming business more profitable, self-sustainable and efficient for years to come. Clover is the backbone of New Zealand pastoral farming which has been forgotten through modern practice's which unfortunately lead's to unneeded expense's to business's bottom line. Graham's expertise is second to none and I have no hesitation recommending his advisory skill's to any soil farming operation.
Philip Engel - Dairy farmer”
“We were disappointed in the results we were getting from our fertilizer programme and approached Graham for recommendations to get the farm performing better. Graham recommended the use of a different type of fertilizer, the addition of critical trace elements and the use of more lime to lift the pH.
Even though the proposals have stretched our budget we have seen such a response from what we have done on his advice that the production pays for it.
We have seen a big improvement in animal health and the quality of our pastures. Without any new over sowing there has been a big lift in clover content. Our ewe deaths around lambing time have halved from about 5% to 2.5% largely due to a reduction in prolapsed vaginas.
Ally and Helen Dowle
Sheep/Beef farmers, Dowle Farming Co. Ltd,”
2. Seminars/Workshops on:
i) farming practices to maximise farm profitability and minimise a farms environmental footprint
ii) increasing the drought resistance of a farm and the water-use efficiency of the plant
iii) the Visual Soil Assessment (VSA) method to:
assess the condition of your soil and performance of your pasture/cereal, vine or tree crop, and their relation to farm management practices
management options available to increase the soil and plant scores
assess the environmental footprint of your farm, i.e. whether your farm is potentially a low, moderate or high emitter of nutrients and greenhouse gases, and whether it is potentially carbon positive, neutral or negative. If the farm has a high environmental footprint, what are management options are available to reduce that footprint
"I just thought it was a marvellous day - I got a huge amount out of it.
I know Malcolm did too and have heard from Rhys how brilliant he found it. Please thank Graham for the day and the books.
Michael, farmer, Wales"
“I've used your VSA guides whilst working as a soil technician for government. Now, out on my own as Bootstrap Environmental Services, I find myself revisiting your guides to use as an extension tool with farmers and Landcare in NSW, Australia. They are an excellent resource!
Adrianna, New South Wales”
“The 40mins of feedback from the group today was very complimentary of the session you took. The team all feel more empowered with the knowledge they picked up from you and the demonstration and they all say it’s given them something substantial to offer farmers, whether it be discussing the soil, the environmental outcomes or animal health tips with different forage. It was fantastic to hear the first timers like Geoff and Melinda get enthusiastic about it and the more experienced guys like Roger and Bill talk about how it was a brilliant refresher. This is great news!
Aaron Topp, Director of Marketing & Sales, Hatuma, Waipukurau”
“I thoroughly enjoyed both days and a lot of things now make sense after listening to your presentation and reading some of your books.
Farming Connect Knowledge Transfer Facilitator, Snowdonia”
Thank you so much for your time and farm visit yesterday; really appreciated it. I’m glad I change my schedule arounds so we had more time to discuss many subjects of soil science and pasture.
I found the whole assessment a very interesting study of what we are doing and we are on track to achieve a healthier farm.
I would have to say every farmers should be educated and conducting a Visual Soil Assessment (using the Field Guide) of their farms annually to understand how they are managing the soil health and pasture for a better healthier tomorrow and looking after their animal health production which will result in greater profits and less stress.
Cheers Stuart, Beef Cattle Farmer, Otaki”
“Your particular contribution, the VSA, is for me one of the most important achievements and unfortunately still one of FAO’s best hidden secrets. In fact, hardly anyone knows and this should really become a standard tool for all FAO farmer field schools and other activities. In the projects, where we have introduced it, it was impressive to see the impact and the quality of soil assessments the farmers could produce with this method.
Theo (Senior Officer - Crop Production Systems Intensification - FAO Crop and Grassland Service (AGPC), Rome”
“I really enjoyed your demonstration and comments during the Toulouse meeting. I had actually followed your papers and was aware of its interest and quality. But the demonstration, and the capacity of putting in simple terms a large number of scientific studies was simply impressive.
José, Instituto de Agricultura Sostenible CSIC, Seville, Spain”
"On the occasion of our ECAF General Assembly close to Paris, half a field day was included. Friedrich Tebruegge (of Germany) demonstrated the "Visual Soil Assessment" according to Graham Shepherds field guide from New Zealand. It was really impressive!
Wolfgang Sturney, Switzerland (Vice President of ECAF - European Conservation Agriculture Federation)"
“David and I have been experimenting with your methodology on some soils in the Lower Macquarie Valley. It does seem to be a very powerful technique.
President, NSW Branch, Australian Society of Soil Science.”
“It’s a wonderful, well illustrated document. You’ve moved VSA a long way from your initial publication and I’m really impressed how you’ve expanded it to very practical applications (for pastoral farming and cropping) that farmers, consultants, etc. can use and apply – and, importantly, make management and financial decisions about.
Dave Leslie, Research Associate, Landcare Research Ltd”
“Your book arrived in the post today. Outstanding! Thanks for the guidance. Will follow your lead and start where you recommend. I suspect your book is going to become an invaluable tool in my pasture management kit. Each page of your book that I read, I learn something new and valuable; actionable and sound. Goodness we have a lot to learn from you Kiwis.
Dr Marco Turco
State University of New York
Hands-on VSA training field day where farmers assess for themselves the condition of their underground economy and pasture performance
Group discussion of farm management practices required to raise the VSA Soil, Plant and Environmental Performance Scores
VSA seminar and field demonstration for ECAF, Leipzig, Germany
Knowledge transfer day for agricultural consultants, Flakkebjerg, Denmark
Becoming acquainted with your soil, pasture and crop using the VSA
Subject matter commonly covered in seminars
● The current ‘reality tree’ of farmers. Is this a function of the sought of advice given by consultants and advisors?
● Are the results of the public good science funding reaching the farm gate and beyond?
● Structure and format of the VSA, the science that underpins it, and its correlation to dry matter production and crop yield
● Key features about the VSA and its ability as a quick and simple tool to train the untrained eye to assess and monitor the condition of the soil and the performance of the pasture/crop
● How the VSA highlights those soil and plant indicators that are underperforming and places the spotlight on the need for specific mitigating farm management practices to raise the VSA scores, providing more certainty in decision making
● Key physical characteristics of the soil
● Key chemical characteristics of the soil
– the essential nutrients and their order of significance
– soil pH; its effects on nutrient availability and milk production
● Soil fertility and smart farming – it’s more than NPK.
– Do you use solid fertilisers to grow the plant, or do you use fertilisers to feed the soil to grow the plant?
– The role of folia fertilisers
– How to convert the nutrients in your effluent pond into brilliant fertiliser
– Are you farming for production or profit?
– Are all fertilisers equal or do some get the job done better than others
● Key biological characteristics of the soil
● Soil life – the ‘engine room’ of the soil. How to keep the engine well-oiled including the use of ‘smart’ fertilisers and biological activators
● Effluent ponds – a window into the health of the soil. Converting the volatile N & P to 'stable' plant available and less leachable forms
● Are we reading soil & herbage tests correctly? We need to be careful how we interpret the tests. Physical, chemical and biological examples are given. The VSA is not subject to the common difficulties of interpretation
● The need for good quantitative measurements of soil/plant/animal/production and environmental performance, and how visual assessments can bring clarity to the interpretation of the data
● Pasture quality and its implications
– we need to use our grey matter to think more about what’s in the dry matter. For example, the nutrient content, pasture species diversity (presenting the animal with a ‘salad’), Brix vs ME and the electrical conductivity (EC) of the pasture sap as a measure of the 'horsepower' in the pasture to convert to milk, meat and fibre, energy levels in the rumen, rumen function, and the feed conversion efficiency
– are your clovers nitrogen fixers or nitrogen feeders?
– six natural supply pathways of free N
– implications of crude protein/nitrate rich pasture
● Grazing management and its implications
● Measures to assess the environmental footprint of a farm. How to increase carbon sequestration and reduce nutrient loss and greenhouse gas emissions.
– The implications of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for farmers
– Is our current high environmental footprint a function of farming or is it a function of the type of advice given to farmers?
– Can current stocking rates be maintained with reduced environmental outcomes by receiving better quality advice?
● Key performance indicators (KPI’s) – an integral part of assessing and monitoring how your farm and your farm consultant/s are performing.
Practical demonstration and hands-on use of the VSA followed by an examination of management practices and the development of an action-plan
This practical will clarify many aspects regarding how to best use the VSA and get the most out of it. The participants record their own VSA scores on the scorecards by referring to their own copy of the VSA as they are systematically taken through the soil and plant indicators. I will also score the soil and plant performance independently and then get the group to sing out their scores after which I give my scores. This exercise demonstrates that the VSA method allows lay people to assess the condition of the soil and the performance of the pasture/crop as, or almost as accurately as an ‘expert’.
The field demonstration and assessment is followed by an open group discussion. In addition to the Soil Quality and Plant Performance Index scores, the score for each individual indicator is reviewed to address what management practices would be needed to raise any soil and plant indicators that have only been given a moderate or poorer score. Soil and herbage test results of the paddock are discuss in conjunction with the VSA scores. It will be seen how the visual information compliments the soil and herbage test results and how they work together to define what ameliorative action is necessary to address any issues that may be present in the soil, pasture/crop and stock.
To get the most out of the exercise, each person should have their own copy of the VSA book. At the very least, one copy between three is required for the field exercise. The book is the guiding manual which people must refer to in order to successfully score the soil and pasture/crop.
International consultancy and speaking engagements
ISTRO VSEE Working Group F meeting, Peronne, France
Soil Quality Conference - Oregon State University, Corvallis USA
Visual Soil Evaluation workshop, Flalkkebjerg, Denmark
VSA meeting, La Touche, France
Soil Quality Conference, Warnammbool, AUSTRALIA
New Zealand Soil Carbon Conference, Te Papa, Wellington, NZ
VSA meeting, SARTH, France
N and soil C workshop at Fordoun, South Africa