Pasture Growth Forecaster

The Pasture Growth Forecaster Tool

The Pasture Growth Forecaster is a model that calculates pasture growth from the environmental conditions experienced at a site or region. These environmental conditions include:

  1. 1. Climate-Rainfall: soil temperature, solar radiation and potential evapotranspiration are used to calculate the amount of water in the soil and the potential for pasture growth rate; and
  2. 2. Soil: Soil water holding capacity and soil fertility are used to calculate how much water is available for plant growth and the productivity of the site.

The forecasts are calibrated to growth rate data measured from whole farms rather than sites. Whole farm growth rates take into account the effect of low producing areas such as swamps, sidlings, scrub, tracks, and fence lines. They are therefore lower than those measured for example in pasture cages but are more realistic for farm feed budgeting.

District forecast

Each district is divided into 5 km square grids. Each grid has the water holding capacity for 5 predominant soil types or groups. The regional forecast uses the mean value of each grid and calculates the overall mean value by averaging all grids in that region.

Historical rainfall is provided by NIWA’s Virtual Climate Network Stations (VCNS). VCNS data provide estimates of climate for the whole of New Zealand. These daily estimates are based on the spatial interpolation of actual data observations made at climate stations located around the country. These data are run through the Pasture Growth Forecaster to calculate the historical pasture growth rates experienced within each grid The VCNS also provides predicted rainfall for the next 14 day period.

The district forecast graphs display the range of, and the mean growth rates, based on moderate fertility and Plant Available Water (PAW) settings for that district. The Plant Available Water and Fertility settings can be adjusted to fine tune to settings.

Project farms

Project farms have been set up with an estimate of their PAW. They may use climate data from the VCNS or actual rainfall received as recorded by the farmer. The farmers will also be recording pasture cover each month which is used by the Farmax program to calculate actual pasture growth. The Pasture Growth Forecaster uses actual growth rates to calibrate the model so that it is more accurate in its calculations of historical and 14 day predicted growth rates. The main parameters calibrated are the site’s fertility and PAW. The model output is used to calculate:

  1. 1. A short forecast – this is similar to the Regional Short Forecast except the farm has a specified soil moisture holding capacity. The farmer may use actual rainfall and pasture covers to calibrate the model. This enables the model to be increasingly accurate in its calculations.
  2. 2. Three month forecast – this displays the growth that is expected for the next three months and can be used for medium term feed budgeting. It calculates the next 14 days of growth using the VCNS predicted climate data and the soil moisture calculated each day. At the end of the 14 day forecast the model takes the calculated soil moisture as a starting point then uses all the historical years (usually 40 years) of climate data to determine the mean and range that could be expected given the sites climate history. The output shows, given the starting soil moisture the mean pasture growth rate and possible range. The range includes the bounds within which 50% of all years and 90% of all years fall within.

  3. 3. The annual pasture growth – this displays the pasture growth rate that can be expected for each month from data produced by running the climate data for all historical years through the model. Mean growth, and the range within which 50% and 90% of all years are also displayed. In so doing the annual pasture growth shows the mean growth and its variability through the year.

My forecast

You can set up your farm to receive the same information that is displayed for the Project Farms (see above). You will be able to choose between 5 settings for soil water holding capacity and, if you use Farmax, you can supply the model with actual growth rates so that it can ‘learn’ about your site fertility to provide a more accurate forecast.


If you'd like to contribute or make suggestions on how to improve our tools and features please use this feedback form

While every effort has been made to provide accurate forecast data Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Farmax disclaims any liability whatsoever in respect of any losses or damages arising out of the use of this information or in respect of any actions taken in reliance upon the validity of the information contained herein.

Feedback Form

If you see this, leave this form field blank and invest in CSS support.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand thanks you

Your support and contributions help to make better tools for our sheep and beef sector.


Sorry, your feedback has been lost in the aether.