Country-Wide November 2020

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Strong wool

A look at the opportunities for crossbred sheep farmers p17

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November 2020


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November 2020

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November 2020


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November 2020


Where to from here?


o the nation has spoken and now farming has to make the best of a situation which could have been worse. The Green Party could have been part of a coalition Government. That seems to be the main cause of the rural swing to Labour, to keep the Greens out. With the Greens not increasing their vote, and the rise of ACT in Parliament, one could argue it is a swing to the right. The full impact of the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 is yet to hit New Zealand and with international tourism gone, farming is the important earner for the country. The country will need every export dollar as the debt rises towards $200 billion or $200,000 million. There has been greater awareness among urban people of the importance of farming and that NZ needs to be in the black to be green. This and the fact the Government now has a large rural vote may soften a Labour Government’s stance towards farming. Federated Farmers and the industry should continue to lobby hard against unfair and unworkable rules. If Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is true to her word she will govern for all New Zealanders. She may do a Lange and call time for a cuppa tea. National paid for its lack of discipline and loyalty. It also relied too heavily on the economic message, but Paul Goldsmith is no Bill English.

The media’s performance was dismal. Journalists were obviously uncritical of Ardern with a lack of questioning of her and her Government’s performance. Towards Judith Collins some were bordering on rabid. In an interview not long after Judith Collins became leader, Radio NZ’s Kim Hill aggressively interrupted Collins 18 times in 10 minutes. Australian media had better, more objective political analysis which included criticism of a placatory media. In this issue we carry on with part two looking at strong wool and the options. Whether it is strong wool or Merino, farmers are only capturing 12% of the retail product price. Perhaps that’s what they should focus on rather than just the farmgate price. Blair and Jody Drysdale have done this with their hemp business (p66). They are growing the crop, processing it and selling online. Before they planted a seed they were focused on capturing the retail price.

Terry Brosnahan Got any feedback? Contact the editor: or call 03 471 5272 @CountryWideEd

Mum’s the word Improving lamb survival is our number one objective. Maternal instinct is a vital component in reducing lamb wastage.

The 2020 tagging team, Kate, Samuel, Olly and Luke

At Wairere we tag 7000 lambs at birth every year. A team on horseback undertakes that work. Another 1500 hogget lambs are recorded by DNA parentage. Tagging at birth provides the opportunity to observe, test and select for strong maternal instinct.

Wairere, making your sheepfarming easier and more profitable | 0800 924 7373 Country-Wide

November 2020


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EDITOR: Terry Brosnahan | 03 471 5272 | 027 249 0200 PUBLISHER: Tony Leggett | 06 280 3162 | 0274 746 093 SUB EDITOR: Andy Maciver | 06 280 3166

Triplets the icing on the cake

MORE p52

DESIGN AND PRODUCTION: Emily Rees | 06 280 3167 Jo Hannam SOCIAL MEDIA: Charlie Pearson | 06 280 3169 WRITERS: Andrew Swallow 021 745 183 Anne Hardie 03 540 3635 Lynda Gray 03 448 6222 Robert Pattison 027 889 8444 Sandra Taylor 021 151 8685 James Hoban 027 251 1986 Russell Priest 06 328 9852 Jo Cuttance 03 976 5599 Joanna Grigg 027 275 4031 PARTNERSHIP MANAGERS: Janine Aish | Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty 027 890 0015 | Tony Leggett | Lower North Island 027 474 6093 | David Paterson | South Island 027 289 2326 | SUBSCRIPTIONS: | 0800 224 782 Printed by Ovato Print NZ Ltd, Riccarton, Christchurch ISSN 1179-9854 (Print) ISSN 2253-2307 (Online)


Contents BOUNDARIES 8 9

HOME BLOCK 10 11 12 13 14 15

Andrew Steven escapes to open spaces Robert Carter is off to see Grant End of calving was a special birthday present for Micha Johansen Lamb prices are good for John Scott, but what will Brexit bring? Beef brings vet Amy Hoogenboom to north Canterbury Charlotte Rietveld has had enough of clairvoyancy

WOOL 17 18 19 20 22 25 26


Still standing after Lake Ohau inferno Inspiring landscape

Strong wool: Tide may be turning Screaming out for strong marketing Back into wool Time for a broad spectrum approach Profitable crossbred sheep farming Finding alternative markets Giving homes a woollen overcoat


November 2020

BUSINESS 28 Pastoral leases and tenure review 30 Metaphors, computers and European holidays 33 Northern Ireland: Covid-19 boosts veg sales by 4000% Strong wool: Tide may be turning

MORE p17

LIVESTOCK 36 44 50 52 59 60

Farming on a fault line Promising start to a low input sheep progeny test Scoring animals, assessing pastures valuable for farmers Triplets the icing on the cake Stock Check: Face-to-face with Wellington Controlling internal parasites

DEER FARMER 62 Post-Covid challenge 64 Taking NZ venison to China Farming on a fault line

CROP AND FORAGE 66 70 72 73 75 77

MORE p36

Hemp growers capture the full price Biodiversity: Alternative pollinators Regenerative Ag: Roadshow plays to thousands Regenerative Ag: False science Regenerative Ag: Crisis, what crisis? UK: Hard row to finding the perfect drill

ENVIRONMENT 80 Is it too little, too late for tahr? 83 Freshwater: Negative messages unhelpful Hemp growers capture the full price

MORE p66

OUR COVER: Our model is one of Kerry and Rosie Dwyer's Suffolk rams in North Otago, which grows crossbred wool, and more meat. Design by Nick Wright.

COMMUNITY 84 Scan Central: Living the dream 86 A case of multi-tasking 87 Hunting: Panoramas and proximity

SOLUTIONS 88 Demonstrating our adaptability 89 Co-op sets lofty emissions target

FARMING IN FOCUS 90 More photos from Country-Wide

NEXT ISSUE: DECEMBER 2020 • Open mind: A couple with little farming experience are successfully managing a hill country farm including the use of new forages to drive productivity and profitability.

Metaphors, computers and European holidays

MORE p30

• Wool insulation: A low profile business is making insulation out of strong wool through a novel process which will eventually require a large portion of the NZ strong wool clip. • Shedding sheep: A Taumarunui farm’s move to reduce labourintensive jobs has been reinforced by the pitiful strong wool prices.


November 2020




Four university students decide to get drunk the night before their final exam. They get so drunk they wake up late and completely miss their final. The four students go to their professor and explain an elaborate lie that when they were on their way to the final their car tyre went flat. They beg for a retest and the professor agrees. The day of the make up test, the students all arrive on time, completely sober. The professor separates the students and announces they may begin the exam. The four of them open their finals booklet and to their surprise there is only one question: “Which tyre was flat?”

Still standing


his charred broccoli was about the only thing left standing at Country-Wide writer Lynda Gray’s Lake Ohau property. The family’s holiday home was one of about 50 incinerated in the village by a fire that burnt out 5000 hectares of native scrub and wilding pines country. Following the fire Lynda and husband Cam were allocated 30 minutes by the Emergency Control team to retrieve what they could from their much-loved Ohau Drive house. There wasn’t a lot: a metal dog bowl, two dog chains and a horseshoe which clearly hadn’t brought a lot of luck. What amazed Lynda was the apparent randomness of the devastation. “Our house was completely annihilated while our neighbour’s, more or less on our boundary, got away with two broken windows and a melted water tank.” Clearing up of the village is likely to take several months while investigations continue into the cause of the fire.

SHARING THE SILVERWARE Winners of this year’s Keinzley AgVet Wairarapa Farm Business of the Year, Te Rangi Station owners, Stuart and Jane McKenzie, pictured with their children, from left, Annabel, John and Harriet. The McKenzie’s full farm profile featured in our May (Beef special) issue of Country-Wide, just after their win was announced. The field day was delayed till late last month because of Covid-19 restrictions. More photos p90.


PUNCH AND JUDY BY: MARK CHAMBERLAIN Pull No Punches. If you are a partisan hack drinking the Kool-Aid from the other side of the political aisle, it goes without saying, you could not find anything good to say about Judith’s memoir. However, if you are openminded and enjoy an easy Pull No Punches. By read about how a farmer’s Judith Collins, Allen daughter, raised in a Labour and Unwin, $35.00. household, could ever aim for the lofty heights of the Beehive; you will certainly find this an interesting read. Pull No Punches was never going to be a scurrilous kiss-and-tell but if you read between the lines, you get a clear picture of how poorly Ms Collins was treated, at times. All political parties have a long history of ‘eating their own’ and National is no exception. She was gracious enough to admire many from across the political spectrum including former PM Helen Clarke’s “always admired”. While some may be critical of her short sentence structure, this does make for a quick, punchy read which sounds authentically, Judith. Whether it was intentional or not, the reader is often left wanting more of the details which for me, could be considered a criticism. We have experienced generations of tearing women down who dare to grab the reins of any sort of power. As a father of four daughters, I believe Judith Collins is someone to be admired. Her intellect, credentials, and resilience are admirable qualities and her willingness to serve the country is something that is often overlooked. She has lived an interesting life - cleaning maternity wards, a Master of Laws degree, a Hong Kong elopement, and car crusher extraordinaire. Come October 17; win, lose, or draw – Judith Collins already is a political survivor.


November 2020


MAY 2020


Building farm flexibility for threats and opportunities

Country-Wide’s designer Emily Rees won the Best Cover Award for a non-newsstand publication at the Magazine Media Awards in Auckland recently. It was for her design of this year’s Beef special. The judges said: “We couldn’t look away from this CountryWide Beef cover. It was engaging, onbrand and graphically sophisticated. The editorial theme was timely too, given this issue was already in the planning when Covid hit.”

LIFE LESSONS A young Swedish couple recently spent time on a Canterbury sheep and beef farm, becoming accustomed to all aspects of farming life. They had no farming experience but were interested to see what happens behind the front gate. The pinnacle of farm education came with an emergency heifer calving. The heifer was brought into the yards on dusk. The farmer produced the industrial sized container of lubricant but couldn’t find gloves so continued without them. He looked at the recently purchased but yet to be assembled calving jack and decided

that having not been able to find the instructions it was probably not the day to use it for the first time. The Swedes were interested in progress and one of them helpfully drew a parallel between what they were watching and what might be ahead, telling his fiancé: “This is what it will be like if you ever have a baby. There’ll be some guy like him there, with some fancy tools he’s never used before, trying to wing it without any instructions.” Mother and calf are both well but the Swedes remain childless.

INSPIRED LANDSCAPE Covid-19 has brought with it enforced staycations rather than overseas travel. Keeping it local and cheaper campervan hire has led to a surge in family road trip holidays. Those cruising through the Mackenzie Basin should stop off at the Clay Cliffs. The stalagmite looking formations are visible from State Highway 8 but it’s well worth the 15-minute drive from Omarama off Quailburn Road to get in and among these unique land formations. There’s an honesty box at the entrance way ($5 a car or $20 a bus). Once parked up there’s a track in, up and around the spired landscape. According to the info board at the start of the walk the cliffs are a classic example of ‘badlands’ terrain of steep box canyons, towers and pinnacles. In simple geological terms what you see is the result of erosive action over thousands of years eating away at the sandstone, claystone, and gravel layers.


November 2020

Cam Dykes heads for the Clay Cliffs

There’s no designated picnic area but there’s plenty of space to put up some camp chairs and spread out a rug for a packed lunch or cuppa.

CRAZY RULES The unevenness and farcical nature of Covid-19 rules were highlighted with Dunedin rugby recently. Club rugby semi-finals coincided with Otago playing Auckland in the opening round of the Mitre 10 Cup at the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium. Two schools' first XVs played the curtain raiser. Lockdown rules and social distancing requirements prompted organisers to close both games off to any spectators. Other than the players and support staff, the stadium was empty. Meanwhile outside 200m away, several hundred spectators were standing shoulder-to-shoulder watching University play Southern in one club premier semi-final.

CRUSHED WITH RECYCLING A North Canterbury farming matriarch was harshly shaken by the realities of rural recycling. After 16 years of catering for three generations, her reliable washing machine gave up the ghost. It had survived heavy, almost daily use, a farm shift and all the Canterbury earthquakes without a scratch. When it finally came to the end of its useful life the owner consoled herself with the thought that at least the bowl and motor parts could be recycled, helping multiple other machines to continue operating. She and her husband carefully loaded it on the back of their ute and took it to the recycling station. After delicately lifting it off the truck and carefully placing it in the loader bucket the loader driver proceeded to drop the washing machine ono a concrete floor from a great height and then crush it with the bucket. Any prospects of reusing parts were brutally squashed, along with the woman’s faith in her local recycling system.



The lonely combine near Omakau.

Escaping to the open spaces Andrew Steven’s farm is mostly green but he’s taken some time off the property to explore and contemplate the distant future.


started my August article with a discussion about the weather. It hasn’t got any wetter since then and we have continued destocking. All the trading animals are gone, some ewes and lambs have been sold all counted and we have pared the ewe hogget numbers right back. Further decisions about hogget numbers must be made soon as their two teeth erupt. The best quality feed available is lucerne/herb mixes and this is going to weaner deer in order to have them finished and off to market while there still is one. They have made very good weight gains and we are drafting anything over 94kg liveweight. I would prefer them to be over 100kg. We are feeding grain to some of the ewes and lambs. We started grain feeding in February and I hate to think how much we have used. I will not be


I got to thinking: what will our farming landscapes look like in 100 years time? Native revegetation and riparian plantings, woodlots, shelterbelts and grasslands will be sequestering carbon. working it out as knowing the cost is not going to make me any happier. Going counter to the destocking trend, we are rearing 100 dairy beef calves. The idea is that by the time they need significant amounts of grass, the rain will be getting closer. If not, then we can sell them. The farm is still mostly green and there is still some growth, even though when

you dig into the soil looking for moisture, none is found. We have escaped all of the above for a couple of days spent exploring the lonely places and wide open spaces of Central Otago; Poolburn, Drybread, Maniatoto, Ida Valley, Old Dunstan Road, Falls Dam. I was surprised by just how much farmland there is in this area. You are likely to see Merinos grazing in the paddock next to dairy cows. The photo was taken in the Manuherikia valley near Omakau. The combine looks lonely and unloved. Nothing I saw suggested that farming in this locality is easy. Is there any such thing as easy farming? An oxymoron, I think. I am picturing a property in South Canterbury that has made good efforts with its riparian planting. The shrubs are getting some height and starting to make a visual impact. I got to thinking: what will our farming landscapes look like in 100 years time? Native revegetation and riparian plantings, woodlots, shelterbelts and grasslands will be sequestering carbon. Native birds will be so numerous that they are on the menu. We will be harvesting high value native timbers from our own plantings. Every farm will have its own wetlands, designed to perform nature’s functions of cleaning water. There will be a patchwork of land uses and hopefully, the farming family is still surviving. The farmer will still be working their arse off. All that is required to make the above a reality is time and sensible policies. A sensible policy is one that includes the farmer, understands their role as land manager and provider of food security and does not treat them like an idiot. Prescriptive policy basically says “you are an idiot“. It is a profoundly disrespectful TIMARU way of treating competent individuals. With parenting, the child is nurtured by the parents/extended family and there is an understanding of the importance of these roles. With farming, the farmer is responsible for nurturing the land and providing food products. You would think that important role would warrant some support?


November 2020


Off to see Grant King Country farmer Robert Carter has reached the ripe old age where he qualifies for a Gold card.


’ve managed to make it to 65 years of age and I’m intrigued that the taxpayers of Aotearoa now give me a small fortnightly stipend for my services to the nation. I was so doubtful that this would actually happen I found myself checking the relevant bank account repeatedly to see if it is true. Yes it is. I was, for a nanosecond, tempted to say “yeah nah” to the whole thing but completing the Ministry of TAUMARUNUI Social Development examinations required to apply for the so called Gold card stiffened my resolve to go through with it. The funds arrive regularly every second Tuesday and the very next day I find myself at our local Toolshed purchasing things that hitherto I have found to be completely unjustifiable. So I send the funds on, in the cycle for which it is intended. Becoming a pensioner also brings memories of my Grandfather “Pop” Carter. He lived to a very ripe old age and I had the benefit of his wisdom until he passed on when I was 16 or so. He used to disappear to town every


November 2020

now and then with the comment that he was “going to see Harry Lake”. Harry Lake was the Minister of Finance in the Keith Holyoake years and so Pop was acknowledging Harry’s largesse for his pension. So now, quite a long time after Pop’s visits to Harry Lake, I have to perhaps give credit to Grant Robertson for his “kindness” although I wish it was Bill English. I have not yet told the family that I’m “off to town to see Grant Robertson” they know that the Toolshed is a far greater magnet and find me there. Another thing I notice about being 65 is the huge increase in the size of my neck muscles. I’m starting to look like one of Don Dittmer’s huge Charolais bulls, so much so that I booked an appointment with my GP to find out what is going on. I had visions of goitre, an out of control gland or three but after many tests and a final consultation he gave me his considered opinion. Apparently I’m the victim of a new physiological condition brought on by shaking my head in disbelief, too often. It is a phenomenon now commonplace in the rural sector. Other symptoms are

Robert Carter with a candidate for his Darroux Emasculator.

Apparently I’m the victim of a new physiological condition brought on by shaking my head in disbelief, too often. repeated phrases such as “Holy ….k, what next!!??” If anyone would like to join my group “The Shaking Heads” I can be contacted at We meet spontaneously and agree with each other enthusiastically, the lyrics are commonplace in our boomer age group. I’ve got a horrible feeling many of you will be similarly affected for another three, possibly four years, I hope I’m wrong. I’ve not taken it any further, as solace and amelioration in the condition has been found by reading Jane Smith’s insights into what ails us all. I realise much younger, better looking and totally competent people are on the case (the cause of the head shaking). So I’m leaving it to the likes of Jane to sort out. (Jane, you have a legion of supporters on your shoulders, I have a super heated Darroux Emasculator ready, should you ever make firm your intentions with certain politicians…)



How now, brown calves...

A special birthday present Despite the bulls being Angus black, Micha Johansen’s calves include many brown ones this season.


y favourite day of the year, aka last calf born, occurred on my birthday this year, so happy birthday to me! I find calving an incredibly stressful time, and the nine weeks it took felt like forever, but it really was but a blip on the calendar. This year we have raised the most calves we ever have, at 111 and we will take them through to 100kg. All are currently on twice-a-day milk, but we will start the weigh-and-wean process next week. I’m sure the biggest (Ethan, who is literally bigger than a miniature horse) and oldest (Uma, who is massively solid) will protest aplenty, my poor, poor babies. We have had an unusual year for calf colour, where brown calves have dominated our usual ‘Angus black’, but have heard of similar stories, so it’s not just us. In addition to brown and black calves we also have a smattering of red, which has us somewhat puzzled. I


know you can get red Angus, so I assume at least one of our bulls had the red gene somewhere. They are simply adorable, so most likely will go into my ‘ooooh I’ll keep those ones’ paddock. Hopefully the brown colouring won’t affect saleability, as we are

Being half beef they do tend to get over excited and run about going berko, generally knocking the ones you just got on to the feeder off. hoping to get most sold at the upcoming weaner sales, otherwise we will have to explore alternative sale avenues, or convince the bank manager to let us buy a second farm (so not happening). This is my 12th or 13th season rearing calves, and I learn and develop new

practices every year. This season I have been getting a cover on to any calf I notice has a cool mouth, rather than simply monitoring, which has helped me have the best calf health season ever. We have only had three that I would consider ‘seriously ill’, and all recovered, much to my delight. TJ will admit that ill calves are not his forte (patience wise) so some afternoons he has fed every calf, except the one I’m sitting in the straw with, squeezing Dexolyte into with every second ‘calf chomp’ on the teat, whilst telling them what a good calf they are. They will usually take a litre in via this method, and that litre can take a jolly long time. The best part is that the hospital pen is opposite the new entrant pen, so I get the joy of hearing TJ trying to juggle babies on to a feeder. Being half beef they do tend to get over excited and run about going berko, generally knocking the ones you just got on to the feeder off. Hearing TJ admonish them for being over-zealous is quite funny. We have upped our Angus breeding bull numbers from four to six this year. While we have not had any issues only using four, it did feel a bit risky should one get hurt, or not work as well. With six we will likely alternate three in three out each week, ensuring the boys get some decent rest, and the girls get a nice variety to choose from. Finally my wee racehorse is turning into an absolute corker. I popped over to the Manawatu Harness track to see how Clyde went on his second EKETAHUNA look at the track, and he handled it like a pro (no biased opinion here). He seemed to really enjoy himself and was keen to get out there for his run-around, which definitely helps. The trainer will make a decision in a month or so as to whether he will have a go as a two year old, or if he needs a bit more time and so will be held back until he is three. To say I’m obsessed is an understatement. Poor TJ repeatedly asked me what it was I wanted for my birthday, and I only had two responses – another shareholding in a racehorse, or a drumkit. Needless to say TJ decided that the fact he puts up with me was present enough.


November 2020


Heifer calves fresh out of the shed on to a grass rotation at Fearn Farm.

Which way with Brexit Lamb prices have been good for John Scott, in Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland, but the clouds of Brexit could change all that.


hile there is no doubt coronavirus dominates the headlines everywhere we look in the United Kingdom at the moment, our old mate Brexit is starting to get a little more air time and deservedly so. Depending on the deal that’s done by the end of the year it could have a seriously negative impact on sheep prices which from our point of view just wouldn’t be cool. I hope for the sake of those that have bought store lambs at record prices (25% up on last year) that this isn’t the case and export demand remains strong. We opted to sell most of our lambs store this year, conserving grass and forage for breeding sheep while easing the workload and our cashflow challenges. Lambs above 35kg were retained for finishing, however, and most of them will depart in the next few weeks leaving only those special characters who will likely be with us for the long haul before finding room in a freezer. UK consumption of beef and lamb has also risen during the summer with


November 2020

consumers unable to eat out due to covid restrictions spending more on higher quality cuts for eating at home. Fiona sells beef to locals by the box and over the past 12 months we have seen a steady increase in demand for both our £100 and £200 (NZ$196 and NZ$393) boxes of assorted cuts of meat, burgers and sausages prepared by a friend who runs a butchers shop alongside his farm. Although not a big part of our business it gives us a good outlet for our smaller Beef Shorthorn and Luing heifers which usually kill at around 250kg carcaseweight at 18-24 months and by selling them this way we can add £200-300 to their bottom line. What it also does is bring us closer to the consumer giving us a better understanding of what they desire, feedback is very positive and we all need to be told that what we produce is awesome now and again, the knock-on effect of hearing that for us is extremely valuable. At present we are recruiting which is challenging at the best of times but given the pandemic is almost impossible. People are nervous about travelling and

rightly so and our own team are nervous about others coming on to the farm, again you can’t blame them. Meetings via zoom and facetime are impersonal and similar to buying a sheepdog, you can’t beat getting them onfarm to see what they are actually like, are they liable to chase the cat, fight with the current dog or do a runner at a key moment? Usually when in between staff we can take to the web to find some travelling Kiwis who normally understand the volumes of stock we are working with but they are as rare as a game of rugby over here at the moment and will be for some time to come. Our theory is that we should be able to source UK-based youngsters who have finished college/university and that instead of heading away on their overseas adventure might like to head north to us for a spell. Time will tell whether our search proves fruitful, we will keep you posted. Autumn has suddenly decided to kick in with real purpose, we have received over 10% (76mm) of our annual rainfall in the last 24 hours, thankfully harvest is over and most straw has been stored for winter use. It's been a really good year with malting barley, our main cereal crop averaging over 8 tonnes/hectare which is certainly a record for us. Quality has also been good but that’s where the fairytale ends, uplift by TAIN, grain buyers has been SCOTLAND woefully slow and what they are paying is also very disappointing. We feel our product is worth £180 (NZ$353) plus per tonne and some of our barley sold forward will have realised that amount but the rest of our contract will be based on the price at harvest which sits around the £130 (NZ$255) mark, the same price as feed barley. If we average somewhere in the early £150s that will be above the £140 cost of production. More grass has been and will be sown. Although I can drive a tractor I’m mechanically challenged and until No2 son (only child showing any interest in the dark arts of machinery) gets to grips with it livestock is the way ahead for us.



Beef brings vet north Veterinarian Amy Hoogenbloom has weathered an interesting year in the Maniototo, including a bout of Covid-19, before making the move to Canterbury.


ime flies and here is an update on the past nine months of my eventful life. Firstly, we must wind ourselves back to February for the Maniototo A&P Show, the chocolate cake baking did not go to plan this year with my performance dropping from last year, I could only manage a yellow ribbon for my efforts. However, this was made up for in the photography section by claiming both the most points and most outstanding entry. I also decided to risk taking along my not long off the track, rather green and young thoroughbred horse for a trot around the ring. Thankfully the horse behaved and there are no moments of embarrassment to tell from this show. Wanaka A&P Show however was a


slightly different story… I managed to stay aboard but there was certainly a large gasp from spectators at one point and ‘Ralph’ should count himself lucky he got fed that night after his show ring performances. March. March, March… some of you Otago region people may recall the ODT’s “Ranfurly vet closes after staff member gets Covid-19” headline. I can confirm that was me. I could write a lengthy essay on this but in short, physically I was quite healthy, the only symptoms I experienced were a runny nose and slight chest tightness. However mentally, the experience was extremely challenging. It is interesting when the physical human

interaction is removed, how lonely it can be. On the upside, my house was extremely clean and tidy after spending three weeks in solitary isolation. Once back out into the real world, the veterinary space was busy with lots of weird and wonderful cases, some mind boggling and some heartbreaking. Abscesses always remain highly satisfying cases – the two favourites from this year are a huge one on a ram's head from fighting and one over the ribs on a Huntaway in which there was an added surprise finding a 3cm piece of wood hiding away in the abscess when I drained it. Then in August the rather windy and bumpy road of 2020 took a sharp turn towards a change in job and location; taking up a position with Zoetis Genetics NZ in a newly created role as their Beef Specialist for New Zealand and shifting to Canterbury. Many of my previous veterinary farming clients will attest to the fact that my favourite topics of conversation when out onfarm was beef cows, herd productivity, quizzing them on bull purchases and challenging them as to what their breeding objectives were. Well now I get to chat beef cattle all day, every day. The role is all about helping beef farmers to make better informed breeding decisions with the use of DNA technologies to lift herd performance and profit potential. It is so rewarding to be working with both commercial farmers and stud breeders from across NZ to problem solve issues and better achieve their breeding goals. As mentioned, the winding road (actually a rather OXFORD long and boring straight road) has seen me shift from Central Otago to the Canterbury area, just south of Oxford. The weather so far is just as unpredictable here as it was in the Maniototo. It is mid-October as I write and I am looking out the window to a fairly white landscape. There’s a squash club down the road and a local A&P show in April with a chance for me to redeem my chocolate cake baking pride at and a farm to hack the horse over. The next chapter isn’t looking too bad!


November 2020


Enough of clairvoyancy Charlotte Rietveld reckons she’ll stick to country knitting following the election.


ith the election result marking the start and finish of my career as a clairvoyant, I’ve been sticking to my knitting. I can’t yet knit, but the immense desire to seek refuge from whatever inefficient, anti-farming, counter-productive initiatives are dreamed up over the next three years has provided all the motivation required. I suspect both the cottage arts industry and bottle shops will thrive from likeminded people seeking similar sanctuary. Perhaps I’ll follow the Greens’ desire by quitting the devilish pursuit of protein production and convert the woolshed into a knitting and home-brewers’ community centre. A ‘citizens’ assembly’ that Eugenie says is the way of the future. Naturally my ethically sourced wool and beer outlet will have some sort of earthy name that appeals to the dreaded folk like ‘Greasy Hoptimists’ or perhaps


November 2020

more satisfyingly ‘Needlers and Pathological Lagers’. Much like Torvill and Dean, Parker and Sage will be far too busy joyfully leaping through their rank, tinder-dry conservation parks to call in. Never mind the demise of our exporting backbone, depletion of tax take and contribution to global food shortages, I’m sure we could find a handharvested, spray-free, drought-shrivelled vege burger off the BBQ for them. Actually we’ll have to ditch the BBQ and make that a raw vege burger – what with no more gas drilling, coal apparently more damaging than Goldsmith’s arithmetic abilities and wood so scarce we’ve got to stitch up half the countryside in trees. But oh (how) their crystal-divined morals about not wanting farmers to get a free feed would probably cause a moratorium on such socialising merriment anyway. What a relief there’s still marijuana to

kick off the non-leather vegan sandals with at the end of the day. Thank goodness we can rely on that burgeoning industry to keep up the taxation coffers. I’m sure its equally ethical vendors will be the first to log on to MyIR to register their GST, PAYE and IR3. But all this will look blissfully hazy, eerie smoke and mirrors, when the mother of all bureaucratic trifectas rises in the House. Set to become a coalition negotiation nexus, the RMA has the potential to put the steak back on the steel hot plate of my citizens’ assembly coal-fired carbon-emitting BBQ. Eventually. Not before it gets rewritten under the strident eye of an unbridled zealot like David Parker. With Eugenie the evangelist at his side, any use of resources after their tone-deaf tune-up will have to promise more than Shane Jones ever could. Not forgetting the pre-existing need to save six snails and consult a dozen dubiously impacted minorities along the way, any development will practically need to walk on clouds to have the minimal impact Sage and her ardent colleagues have as their lofty negotiation goals. Rather a sight for sore eyes it would be for the nation to actually see Eugenie’s RAKAIA bottom lines. GORGE And yet it is exactly this withering experience that has the potential to galvanise industries as the chorus of frustration inevitably gains volume. With Jacinda back touting 10year poverty-busting, house-multiplying aspirationalism it’ll be interesting to see how stifled developers and rocketing real estate values deal to our housing crises and inequality. Negligible progress is embarrassing after three years, inexcusable after six. In the meantime, I suggest rural New Zealand sticks to its knitting. Prepare for a policy barrage of equity, kindness and sustainability but we all know it’ll be plain old hard graft that gets us out of this hole. And given that those in power will be too busy seeking the view of blind bats, do keep an eye out for deplorably named woolsheds (Brewers of Diskein?) where like-minded mates can take a load off while spinning some yarns in search of the holy ale.



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November 2020


Strong wool, tide may be turning Country-Wide continues to look at strong wool’s future, both within NZ and overseas. BY: ANNABELLE LATZ


humbing through the old wool prices on the family farm in North Canterbury, Chris Earl sees that in the mid-1980s wool was 60% of his father’s income. His great grandfather had an article in Waipara’s 1958 Squatter and Settler publication about the cost of wool and shearing. “It was costing them two fleeces of wool to shear 100 sheep, wool prices were buoyant and shearers were on good money,” Chris says. In 1989 he and his wife Jane bought 156 hectares in Scargill, and this has grown into a 693ha farm, through subsequent additions and leasing. They bred Corriedales for a decade, and dabbled with Romneys. Chris says in the late ‘80s wool prices slipped off the pace a bit, but were still reasonable. In 2008 they bought Longdowns Stud, which was started in Temuka by Michael and Robyn Talbot with Coopworths in the 1970s, a good all-purpose sheep. From the late 1990s the Talbots introduced Texel, then East Friesian and Finn in small amounts, to increase fertility and milking ability. This style of sheep allowed the Earls to focus more on carcaseweight and easy lambing, rather than wool production. ‘The writing was on the wall with wool. It was becoming less and less of our income. For the push to survive, we needed faster-growing lambs, and more of them.” Chris acknowledges that New Zealand has been very innovative in the primary sector space, particularly with regard to our dairy industry and the fine wool industry. But the strong wool industry has been left behind. “The point I’m trying to make here, is that as a strong wool industry we have made poor decisions. It’s something that


November 2020

Chris Earl of Longdowns Stud in North Canterbury said New Zealand strong wool could hold many answers to the need for more sustainable and renewable products.

hasn’t happened overnight, but it has been a bit of our own doing.” He believes NZ strong wool is the best in the world, but between leaving the sheep’s back and landing in the market, there has been a lack of standardisation which has created little vision, direction and confidence in the industry. More assistance with the marketing of it is needed to create consistent quality, clear expectations from consumers, and a driven focus for producers. “We’re busy farming, why isn’t the Government stepping in and promoting it?” With the NZ Wool Board now gone, a marketing gap has been left and needs someone to fill it as there is a lack of a collective voice. “Especially with the massive global movement of the importance of a green renewable resources. We need less reliance on oil products, and wool is in the perfect position to fill that gap.” The biggest sellers of wool are the freezing works, which is only going to increase as the cost of shearing gets higher

and farmers choose to leave fleeces on when their stock is loaded on to the truck. Adding to this, lanolin and keratin could both be better utilised as an extra income from shearing. “Why have we given it away? We don’t get paid a cent for the grease.” He concedes woollen carpet is never going to be the saviour of the wool industry, or insulation. “Not when you have synthetics coming into it.” Thinking about alternative uses for wool such as incontinence pads, face masks, nappies, and horticultural aids like woollen mats for around trees, is the way the industry needs to be turning. “There is a lack of general education. People don’t understand the product, some think sheep have to die to get the wool off their backs.” With the increase in the dairy industry and fewer sheep being bred these days, Chris says it would make sense for demand of all wool to be strong. “But we’re getting under $2/kg. The best Continues




‘As a strong wool industry we have made poor decisions. It’s something that hasn’t happened overnight, but it has been a bit of our own doing.’ we ever got with our wool was close to $5/kg.” So the best favour strong wool breeders can do themselves at the moment is focus on carcaseweights. He remembers being a kid, and the Corriedale lambs were light, with wool from their toes to their nose, and barley grass everywhere. “We’d sit in the catching pen and be pulling the barley grass out of their eyes.” Today they strive for less wool, and faster-growing lambs that grade well at heavier weights, and they aim for more of them. “In the mid-’80s the average lamb was 12.5kg carcaseweight, there was no genetics to grow them out. Today, 18 to 20kg lambs are sold straight off their mum, in the same period of time. This keeps you in the game.” The Earls did work with a slightly lower micron of 31-32 with their earlier breeds, and they’d cut a 4.5kg fleece. But the yield was 65-70%. “These girls now cut 3-3.5kg fleeces, with a 34-45 micron, and a yield close to 80%.” Chris says although it looks half a kilogram difference on paper, the workload and mothering time is a lot less. “We’re getting less for the wool, but overall it’s better.” It’s about getting lambs on the ground. “Because wool is the most inheritable trait you can get on the sheep. Right now, it’s about getting the stuff that pays the bills, sorted. We can improve the wool quality later, and quickly, when the New Zealand strong wool market comes right.” But Chris does believe consumers are looking at more sustainable options. “The tide is turning on synthetic products, you can feel it. If that is going to be the savior, we have the trump card.”


Rick Orr and his son Ash thoroughly enjoy farming Romneys, but say crossing them with Merinos gives them options with the way the strong wool market is at the moment.

Screaming out for strong marketing BY: ANNABELLE LATZ


arketing, targets and research is what the New Zealand strong wool industry needs for it to become the fibre of choice, rather than synthetics. Rick Orr of Red Oak Stud says this has been the industry’s downfall. “The biggest problem is that we do nothing to add value to the strong wool industry. We don’t process anything here. Wool factories are closing down, but we need to make more products here.” Red Oak Stud has been in the Orr family since 1923, and Rick and his wife Deb have been farming Romneys since 1989. This Romney ram breeding venture began in Wanganui, where they would sell up to 400 rams a year. During the 1990s, together with a group of clients, they would send hundreds of bales of wool to Hunters in Scotland for tweed jackets and other strong wool products. “We were getting a good premium.” At the time they were undertaking plenty of wool research through PGG and WRONZ.

“We learned that the highest bulk with the lowest variation was the best option for carpet.” During these times there were 72 million sheep running around NZ, the United States carpet market used one percent NZ half bred wool. “If they had used 2%, New Zealand would not have been able to produce enough.” In 2001 The Orr family moved the stud down to Weka Pass in North Canterbury, where they run a 2100-hectare Romney and Angus stud with their son Ash. Rick says the North Canterbury dry summers are restrictive on performance, and there is certainly no money in buying in feed. They could run twice the stock in Wanganui, but had to learn to adjust. “We probably pushed the envelope a bit here as North Islanders when we first moved. But it’s hard when you have 30-year-old genetics and capital stock you don’t want to get rid of.” Although Rick admits the land is a bit “too good for Merinos” they do now cross Merino rams over their Romney ewes, to try and add value and reduce the microns. They began cross breeding five years ago, more seriously in the last three years,


November 2020


Back into wool brown homespun jersey was number one student fashion item for warmth and style in the 1980s. This dropped out of fashion somewhere in the 1990s but wool is making a comeback among students in 2020. The Back Road knitted jersey, available from Farmlands, made by MKM in the Manawatu, are increasingly popular with students. They are cheap (about $70), warm and made in New Zealand using local wool. The windbreaker lined version, made in China, is also popular but more expensive. Among farmers and other outdoor workers, the MKM Tasman jersey is hugely popular, with up to 25,000 units sold each year. The outer layer is wool while the inner layer is Eco Possum, adding comfort and breathability. They are a bit pricier at $149 so best put on the student loan. John Myszczyszyn, MKM, chief

executive, said both the basic Back Road and the MKM Tasman are a great end use for 29.5 micron wool. It is spun into yarn at Woolyarns, Wellington, then knitted in Palmerston North. “It’s a fantastic New Zealand story.” “We currently buy up to 25 tonnes of this particular yarn each year which we are hoping to increase, as our sales are hugely increasing year on year, due to the switch to supporting New Zealand made.” Length of the fleece is not typically an issue and it can be second shear wool. MKM is one of the largest Possum Merino manufacturers in the world. They use wool ranging from 17 micron (and even 15 micron cashmere) up to a wider micron of 29.5. The knitwear is sold to retailers all over the world, John said. MKM creates knitwear garments that are all designed and manufactured in the Manawatu. They have been in business for 136 years and knitted the first All Black Jersey in 1904.

because crossbred wool was performing so poorly. Nowadays, there’s about 17 million sheep in NZ, and strong wool is just about irrelevant. “To shear a sheep, you pretty much pay a bill. You’re getting between $1-$2/kg, it’s absolute shit.” They used to shear every six months, but have now opted for every eight months due to cost. “The cost to shear is $5-$6, if you are getting $2/kg for the wool you have to get 3kg just to pay the bill. So assuming halfbreds perform well, and we can maintain the good attributes of the Romney, we will be better off. In a few years’ time, more than half the flock could be a half-bred base.” What is interesting is that a 19-micron Merino ram over a 35-micron Romney ewe will breed progeny with a 22-25 micron fleece. “A 22-25 micron here, as opposed to a 32-35 micron, is worth $12-$14/kg as opposed to $1-$2/kg.” Per stock unit, they’re better off by $40

with a halfbred. And breeding a halfbred sheep performing the same lambing-wise, they will be significantly better off. “Nothing will beat lambing percentage and the meat price, no matter how good your wool is.” Rick says the strong wool industry needs a marketing model similar to The New Zealand Merino Company; strong wool also needs long term direction and added value markets. “We have not so much given up on strong wool, but we are better off doing something we can control. But wool is a unique resource and it is sustainable, that is the big statement here.” Ash has started taking over the reins of Red Oak Stud, where they also have an Angus breeding programme. He enjoys the Romney bloodlines, but is nervous about the future of strong wool. “Because how often do you see a wool advertisement? We have a lack of manufacturers, suppliers and production, so it’s just a vicious cycle. Strong wool farmers have no confidence.” Ash says it’s time to look beyond




November 2020

A well-worn wool jersey is standard farm and Lincoln University apparel. The Back Road and other similar Jerseys are increasingly popular with students in Otago.

The MKM Tasman jerseys are made from 29.5 micron NZ wool on the outside, with a possum layer on the inside.

clothing and carpet for strong wool. Insulation, cutlery, surf boards, chairs and seat covers are options that need investigation. “And we need to breed a product that is consistent, and we need to breed to targets so we can plan.” Ash agrees with his father that it will take some solid education about the sustainability of wool, and some Government direction. “It would take the Government to say ‘all KiwiBuild houses have to have wool carpet.’ The Government should be saying ‘We want to use this wool product; farmers you produce it and we’ll use it.’” As far as the breeding goes, Ash says if NZ strong wool farmers focus on strong bloodlines and solid data, collectively there can be a consistent strong wool product to take into the market. “Because consumers don’t realise the unique quality resource we’ve got. It deserves continual investigation and time invested, because there are so many great attributes that need smart minds and market research getting behind it.”



Very few farmers invest in adding value to their wool beyond the farm gate.

Time for a broad spectrum approach BY: ROBERT PATTISON


onsumers around the world don’t buy wool; they buy woollen textile products of which wool is one component. And while coarse wool prices are at an all-time low, woollen product prices are increasing. Table 1 shows that the value of coarse wool (35-39 micron) is only 5% of the retail value of a metre of woollen broadloom carpet. The margins to be made from wool are small compared with the retail value of woollen products. Table 2 shows the same with woollen apparel products. Merino wool prices have been at record levels, but the value of a 17 micron fleece is still only 12% of the retail value of knitting yarn. Despite greasy coarse wool prices dropping below $2/kg, the international retail value of products made from NZ wool is worth more than NZ$5 billion;


that’s 10 times the FOB export value of NZ’s wool clip. NZ coarse wool is converted into a huge range of products – knitting and carpet yarns, carpets and rugs, upholstery, furnishings, bedding, clothing and novel end uses such as tennis balls, insulation, industrial products, felted materials and, more recently, shoes and surf boards. Then there are health and medical applications. But very few farmers invest in adding value to their wool beyond the farm gate. At present, sheep are shorn in their age groups – ewes, rams, hoggets, lambs – and the wool sorted into various lines for quality (style), colour, staple length, fineness and acquired faults. The wool is then pressed into bales with line descriptions recorded and sold to wool merchants, wool brokers (contracts, online by description, or at auction) as is where is. Sheep farmers take no further responsibility other than accepting what

they consider is the best price available at time of sale. The buyers are wool exporter companies who interface with manufacturers. Each farmer and company in the pipeline operates independently and seeks to make a profit from each transaction. These greasy wool traders are all price takers. They provide a service to farmers and the international textile industry. Developing equity partnerships with manufacturers to capture a share of the product value may be one way that coarse wool sheep farmers don’t have to rely solely on the price of greasy wool inside their farm gate. Historically, NZ wool promotion has targeted the biological, environmental and sustainability properties of wool. In fact, billions of dollars (NZ$4.1 billion from 1945 to 2009) was spent on research, product development and promoting the attributes of wool to consumers. But history has shown farmer-funded market support schemes and branding programmes for greasy wool have been unsustainable. With the average coarse wool price now under $2.00/kg greasy, there has clearly been market failure and the majority of coarse wool sheep farmers haven’t supported their unique fibre since they stopped paying wool levies in 2009. Since then there has not been a formal collective wool industry research fund or a cohesive market or industry funding strategy. The exception has been farmers who invested in companies such as Wools of NZ, Primary Wool Co-Operative and Carrfields Primary Wool (CP Wool Partners), and a number of independent farmers and businesses that have privately funded and ventured into manufacturing and adding value to wool. There are also many wool trading businesses working independently investing their own capital in their product and market development programmes. Along with the NZ Wool Exporter companies, they all operate independently and compete in the international market for NZ wool. Each business seeks to make a profit and pay shareholder dividends. They also endeavour to pay their farmer supplier/shareholders premiums (either at auction or private contracts) for specific types of greasy wool. Each company has to compete on price/


November 2020

Table 1: The value of a crossbred fleece (October 2020) in broad loom carpet (BLM) is only 5% of the carpets retail value. In March 2012 the value of a crossbred fleece was 12% of retail value. Clean prices for Crossbred wool October, 2020 Micron

Clean NZc/kg

Yield %

Greasy c/kg

Greasy Fleece weight kg

$ Fleece value

FLE value as % of carpet retail value

FLE 35 – 39







Yarn yield

Carpet retail value

75% of GFW




Table 2: The value of a Merino fleece (October 2020) is only 12% of the retail value of 8ply knitting yarn. Clean prices for Merino wool October 2020 Micron

Clean NZc/kg

Yield %

Greasy c/kg

Greasy Fleece weight kg

$ Fleece value







kg to attract farmer suppliers and at the same time compete on price/kg to their clients along the supply pipeline. This means the businesses operating in the greasy/scoured wool market are margin traders. History clearly shows that if coarse wool sheep farmers continue to rely on fibre branding and marketing strategies to increase greasy wool prices they will be disappointed. Past expenditure of hundreds of millions of wool grower levies on generic promotion for NZ strong wool, and for branded interior textiles such as carpets, rugs, bedding and upholstery, has been successful at increasing consumer awareness and product demand but hasn’t halted the long-term decline in wool prices at the farm gate. There haven’t been any joint venture initiatives developed for a share of the added value to be passed back to wool growers. International woollen processors and manufacturers have a significant investment and commitment to wool, but they are also able and willing to use alternative fibres when NZ coarse wool is deemed to be too expensive. In order to avoid substitution, coarse wool prices have to retain their long-term price relativity to synthetics and cotton in the international textile fibre markets. Rather than focusing on initiatives to increase the price per kilogram for coarse wool, developing equity partnerships with manufacturers in NZ, North America and Europe may be what is required for sheep farmers to capture a larger share of the product value.


November 2020

FLE value as % of retail value


In the past 20 years specialist wool organisations such as the NZ Wool Board, Australian Wool Corporation, International Wool Secretariat, and South African Wool Board have all been disestablished. In the mid-90s they collectively had more than $1 billion in reserves. But the reserves were spent trying to artificially support and increase the price/kg of wool.

Rather than focusing on initiatives to increase the price per kilogram for coarse wool, developing equity partnerships with manufacturers in NZ, North America and Europe may be what is required. There have since been many farmerfunded companies that have attempted to fill the void, but they have also been unsuccessful at being able to sustain or increase wool prices and the companies have failed despite the appointments of many farmer and professional directors. With a multitude of company failures, and all the reserves gone, the international market for NZ wool has been left to operate internationally in a free market without an industry body. There is plenty of evidence that many NZ and international companies have launched successful marketing campaigns for their products using images of NZ

Yarn yield

Knitting yarn

60% of GFW

Retail value



scenery to support their environmental and sustainability stories. We also know that marketing stories with a green perception help sell a product. Equally important is that the chemicals used for early stage processing, such as scouring agents, fibre treatments, lubricants and dyestuffs, are all independently assessed as being environmentally friendly. To capture a greater share of the global $5 billion woollen product value at consumer level, sheepfarmers and government agencies should be partnering with businesses that have the expertise and technology required to convert coarse wool into high quality woollen products. NZ has factories with modern machinery and people with the entrepreneurial skills to take coarse wool products to international markets. The immediate problem for sheepfarmers is that there is no collective capital fund left to finance any new business proposals or ventures. Fortunately, the Strong Wool Action Group has secured $400,000 (half from four meat companies and half from the Ministry for Primary Industries). This has allowed it to appoint an executive officer. The challenge for him will be to convince coarse wool farmers and government agencies to invest in the coarse wool industry outside the farm gate as well as implement an industry-wide strategy to halt the long-term decline in wool revenue inside the farm gate. • Robert Pattison is a wool consultant based in Canterbury.



How you feed the pregnant ewe has a lifetime impact on her daughters, along with the genetics of the ewes and the sire.

Profitable crossbred sheep farming BY: KERRY DWYER


he challenge for sheep farming in New Zealand has been maintaining profitability in the face of lower returns from wool. Many farmers have opted out over the past 30 years because of lack of profitability; hence sheep numbers dropping from 58 million in 1990 to around 27m now. Lambing percentages and meat production have risen in that time while wool production per head has remained static. I recently read an article from 1894, republished by NZ Sheepbreeders Association, saying the English were historically beef eaters rather than mutton eaters. Mutton came into common diets only because of some improved breeding in the 19th century, prior to which sheep were farmed for wool and manure production. The analogy is that NZ farmers have also changed production emphasis for our


sheep, especially over the past 30 years. If you are reluctant to farm sheep with no wool income then how do you subsidise the loss from other income streams? Can you offset the loss from wool production by increasing other income streams? Sheep have been bred to produce meat, wool and milk. Increasing meat production to subsidise the wool share of the sheep has been happening steadily on NZ sheep farms. The 2018/19 statistics show an average of 133% lambing, producing 19.1kg lamb carcases and 21kg of lamb per ewe bred. The very top end of sheep farmers are doing close to 200% lambing and growing over 36kg lamb carcase per ewe bred, which returns double the average gross income – $3.

LAMBING PERCENTAGE The number of eggs a female mammal can ovulate during her lifetime is set before she is born, depending on genetics and nutrition of the mother, so potential lambing performance starts from mating. How you feed the pregnant ewe has a

lifetime impact on her daughters, as does the genetics of the ewes and the sire. We aim to get a high level of fertilisation, and then get lambs through to weaning successfully to achieve a high lambing percentage. English sheep farmers lamb their ewes in sheds to maximise the results; some farmers here rear lambs off the mothers to get similar improvements. The base principle is that animals are fed better and given a better environment for survival, especially at critical times in their lives. Also, a base principle is an emphasis on per head rather than per hectare production. That is an economic balancing act but the push for per hectare performance is inclined to get you overstocked, which lowers per head performance when the environment is less than desirable. How resilient is your sheep system in the face of climate change? Over the past 30 years sheep production per head has lifted as sheep numbers have dropped and stocking rates have eased. At the same time there has been a lift in


November 2020

that is $30,000 that could have been profit. On the average NZ sheep farm that could be a 15% increase in profit – a rather handy result. There is a genetic component to lamb growth, but again it is largely about feeding. If you can get more lambs and grow them faster, then the loss on wool production can be offset to some extent.


Farmers need to consider whether to invest in future wool production, and then to what level of investment - whether on or off-farm.

cattle numbers on many sheep farms, which has given some complementary benefits. You have altered your farm management; you can and will alter it more to chase profitability. Lambing percentage is about feeding.

LAMB GROWTH I say to my clients that lambing percentage is about lamb growth, meaning that if you maximise lamb growth you will have more feed for mating time because you have fewer lambs around to compete with the breeders. The result is improved lambing percentages on a regular basis. Average lamb carcaseweight in NZ is about 19kg at an average slaughter age of about 220 days. If we assume an average dressing percentage of 44% that means an average liveweight at kill of 44kg. Assuming 3kg average birthweight then the typical lamb has grown at 186g/day from birth


November 2020

to slaughter. We know lambs grow better before weaning because they are getting mother’s milk and spring grass, so we can extrapolate the figures further to a preweaning period of 100 days growing at 250g/day followed by 120 days growth at 133g/day. The top end of lambs are growing at 500g/day pre-weaning and 300g/day postweaning. That level of growth puts them at slaughter weight near weaning or not long after. That is so much better than the industry average that we wonder what happens on the average farm, let alone the below average. The economic impact of improved lamb growth is supported by every feed budget ever done. A lamb growing at the average rate takes another 80-100kg drymatter (DM) because of the longer feeding period. At, say, 18c/kg DM the slower-growing lamb costs another $15/head to get to slaughter. Over an average of 2000 lambs

About 8% of the export value from animals processed in NZ is classed as byproducts, being offal of varying descriptions along with fat, bone, blood and pharmaceutical products. Skins and slipe wool are other products, but currently neither add much value to your lamb or mutton. The utilisation and export of byproducts has been steadily increasing as processors develop new markets and aim to minimise waste. That makes sense since meat makes less than half the animal’s weight at slaughter. Currently these byproducts are more valuable and profitable than the wool your sheep grow. As farmers we cannot produce sheep with more blood etc, but in future we may breed sheep for specific byproduct purposes. Note that “Dolly” the cloned sheep was bred in 1996 to produce a certain milk constituent, not just to demonstrate the ability to clone the animal.

IMPROVED WOOL INCOME In the early 20th century NZ sheep farming developed a “crossbred” sheep that was suitable for much of the country. Based on a Romney, it has been altered over time but it produces a coarser micron fleece that was well suited to carpets and coarser textiles. Market demand for that fibre has reduced, leading to the low prices for your wool. We can continue to grow that style of wool and take what is being offered, or we can produce a different style of fibre to meet existing markets or develop new ones. That is the thrust behind the new “Astino” sheep breed, producing wool aimed at air filter production. Similarly, the lustrous, dark fibre of the Gotland Pelt might have a niche market appeal. Crossbred wool covering on tennis balls has also been promoted. The future might Continues

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be to join the lifestyle of breeding Valais Blacknose. You need to consider whether to invest in future wool production, and then consider what level of investment whether on or off-farm.

REDUCING WOOL COSTS Many sheep farmers around the world shear their own sheep. In NZ we have developed larger flocks and a skilled, specialised workforce to harvest the wool. Maybe you have to develop the skills and time to shear your own sheep in order to make sense of wool production. If you are paying $2.50/kg or more to harvest the wool, then shearing becomes a necessary chore for some sheep farmers. Shearing and crutching less frequently may be one way to reduce costs. The development of crutching trailers has provided a lower-cost cleanup job than dragging all the flock across the board. Robotic shearing has been looked at but not perfected; if robots can milk cows then they have advanced enough to shear sheep. Part of the issue of shearing is whether to process the wool – if the sheep is shorn


and the wool not processed then costs can be reduced considerably, for example, Bioclip. Note that wool has some fertiliser value since it is a protein containing about 15% nitrogen and 5% sulphur. It will break down naturally but that might be sped up by composting or pelletising – surely the Green Party would approve of that!

SHEEP MILKING Sheep milk production is being promoted as a growing industry with a great future, and on figures it could displace sheep (and cattle?) from many areas. The limiting factors at present are suitable sheep, processing infrastructure and willingness to invest. A scan of the internet shows potential income of up to $1000/ewe/year, which rates fairly well against the average cow at $2600/year. Given that level of income, the wool production is strictly an animal health issue with meat being secondary. The average sheep flock in NZ runs about 2000 breeding ewes. To integrate a medium-scale sheep milking platform into that is technically possible, maybe milking 500 ewes for four months to generate

about $400/ewe income. The figure of $3/litre has been publicised recently, and dual purpose ewes might average just over one litre/day for prolonged milking, depending on feed and management. That means an additional $200,000 of income to a sheep enterprise that has a total income of around $300,000. It would require investment in infrastructure and labour along with a change in management emphasis, but an integrated system would continue to produce meat and wool. Access to processing facilities would be a limitation but it may be a better future than more pine trees or larger dairy farms. Crossbred sheep farming continues to decline in NZ as wool prices drop in real terms. You might subsidise wool production by improving lambing percentage and lamb growth rates, thus increasing meat production. Or you might breed a sheep for other purposes such as specialised byproducts or wool or milk. If you don’t want to change your farming trajectory then it might be a good time to have a heart-to-heart with your shareholders and financiers, because they might not be so happy with your plan.


November 2020


Finding alternative markets BY: CHRIS MCCULLOUGH


ourcing other markets that can handle bulk quantities of wool is a huge challenge which means tonnes of this year’s unsold material could lie in storage until next year. As we know, wool is a 100% natural fibre with rare properties and has been skilfully crafted into garments, carpets, bedding and other uses as long as history can recall. There are about 22 million sheep and lambs in the United Kingdom producing millions of tonnes of fleece wool each year with varying quality depending on the breed. Softer, finer wools are more commonly used for garments while the more coarse fibres are used in carpets. These traditional outlets account for the main markets for wool but when China closed its order books once Covid-19 hit countries like New Zealand and the UK were left with mountains of wool that could not be sold.

ALTERNATIVE USES Just as sheep use wool as a barrier to keep out the winter chills the same principle can be adhered to for buildings using the material as insulation. Creating a barrier from the outdoors, insulators such as foam, fibreglass and wool help to improve the energy efficiency of homes. Wool allows millions of tiny air pockets to form which creates a thermal barrier, regulates humidity and keeps both the sheep and buildings warm. It works in precisely the same way when used for building insulation and has a thermal conductivity of between 0.0035 0.04 W/mK, whereas typical mineral wool has a thermal conductivity of 0.044 W/mK. Sheep wool is also a good air purifier as it has a great ability to absorb and neutralise substances which may be harmful. Wool is a natural protein made up of 18 different amino acid chains of which 60% have a reactive side chain. These reactive areas allow the wool to absorb harmful and odorous substances


November 2020

The UK’s 22 million sheep produce millions of tonnes of wool of varying quality.

including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and formaldehydes and neutralise them through a process known as chemisorption. Not only can sheep wool absorb one third of its weight in moisture, it can do this without compromising its ability to insulate. Water vapour is absorbed by the core of sheep wool fibre, making it great at combating condensation. Plus, sheep wool is really easy to work with when using as insulation in buildings. Both glass wool and rock wool cause major irritation to bare skin and can cause damage to lungs and eyes. Therefore it is strongly recommended that a mask and goggles are worn when installing either of these. However, using sheep wool insulation is safe and harmless.

WOOL PELLETS AS FERTILISER Using 100% raw wool in pellet form as a garden fertiliser is becoming increasingly popular and is another good use for the material. The pellets can have a fertiliser value of 9:1:2 (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), while also containing sulphur, iron, magnesium, calcium and a range of other micronutrients. Some of the main advantages of using wool as fertiliser include its ability to hold

20 times its weight in water. As wool soaks in water, it puffs up and expands helping to increase the porosity or oxygen in the soil. This gives space for roots to spread out and grow becoming deeper and stronger, reducing the need for additives. They are slow release, typically breaking down in six months, meaning they help plants grow all-year and are 100% natural helping to improve the soil. Wool pellets are a natural repellent to slugs, snails, and weeds when placed around the base of plants and mixed into the soil. Looking at the wool fibres under a microscope shows they are barbed which is the perfect battle armour that will keep the soft bellied pests away from plants.

NATURAL FOOD COOLING During the Covid-19 pandemic a number of independent food retailers and farm shops started online sales of their produce to reduce the need of consumers mixing in supermarkets. Many opted to use 100% wool in the food packaging for delivery to protect the produce and help keep it as fresh and cool as possible. Wool fibres are incredibly effective at absorbing moisture from the air which minimises humidity and condensation to maintain stable temperatures, and create a natural cooling system. Using wool in fleece liners or insulated cardboard boxes has been independently proven to keep food contents below the all-important 5C for at least 24 hours and longer. This makes them ideal for delivering chilled food products such as meats, cheeses and chocolate, as well as fruit and vegetables.

KEEPING PETS WARM Last but not least wool makes the perfect warm bedding liner for those precious pets that also deserve a good night’s sleep especially on a farm where the sheepdogs are the hardest working employees there.



Giving homes a woollen overcoat BY: LYNDA GRAY


lot of people support the concept of sustainable and eco-friendly wool insulation but getting them to follow through and buy it is another matter. Some sheep farmers start conversations about wool insulation but back out when they realise it will be more expensive, Brad Stuart, Terra Lana sales manager says. Missing out on business is frustrating, but equally so is the failure of potential clients to look at the bigger picture of a house building exercise. “Yes, it could be that they’re spending an extra four or five thousand dollars (than using a fibreglass product) but that’s

minimal over what is often a million dollar project.” He argues the cost benefits over time will outweigh the initial cash outlay. “I think that the big barrier is that people literally don’t see the value in the stuff that goes into creating a sound and sustainable building structure and that’s the challenge for us with wool insulation.” Terra Lana will use 300 to 500 tonnes of 35 micron-plus wool in insulation and landscaping products over the next year but Stuart says there’s potential to increase that up to 1000 tonnes. The Christchurch company produces wool insulation using recycled wool from carpet manufacturers blended with new scoured wool 35 microns and stronger, and polyester. The insulation rolls use

the lower quality wool categories such as bellies and pieces An average-sized house full of wool insulation could use from 250kg of wool insulation, with the largest homes using 1000kg. “Without a doubt there’s been a growth in demand for sustainable wool solutions. The problem is lack of investment in R & D. We’re happy to invest in our own business but I think we need support from the wider industry and at a government level to grow.” Terra Lana also produce non-woven wool landscaping mat, 150,000 sq m of which was used in plantings alongside the Christchurch northern motorway corridor. Stuart says there’s a big opportunity for working with NZTA in landscaping

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November 2020

Above left: Tarra Lana insulation is made from recycled carpet wool and scoured crossbred wool. Top right: Brad Stuart, Terra Lana sales manager. Above right: Terra mulch is a wool landscaping mat.

developments and believes the government should be somehow driving and encouraging these collaborations. Local government could also get onboard and a good example was the Christchurch City Council’s endorsement of specifying the use of wool matting products in council-funded landscaping projects. Green Sheep is another wool insulation manufacturer. It uses about 10 tonnes of wool annually in its floor, ceiling and wool insulation products manufactured and distributed throughout the central North Island. Inquiry for product has grown since Covid-19 which Green Sheep owner Richard Bennett attributes to increased interest in home-grown and natural products. However, the inquiry hasn’t necessarily transpired into sales. Green Sheep’s 70% wool 30% polyester insulation rolls are between $5 to $7 per sqm more expensive than fibreglass product, but it’s unashamedly a premium product, Bennett says. He believes value-added marketing strategies for crossbred wool need to be specifically targeted. “We know from research that females aged 25 to 50-years-old care a lot about sustainable and safe products whereas males generally aren’t as concerned.”


November 2020

He’s unsure as to who should be coordinating and driving the marketing strategies but is clear on one thing: the word ‘wool’ should be trademarked so it can’t be ripped off and used by manufacturers of imitation wool products. However, legally it’s a step too far according to an International Property Office NZ (IPONZ) spokeswoman who says that trademarking a generic or general word such as ‘wool’ is not possible. “It generally has to be a unique or novel word to be eligible for trademarking.”

WALKING THE TALK Miles Anderson made it his mission to have wool insulation in the new family home at Southburn, southwest of Timaru. The family’s Oamaru stone, fourbedroom 240sq m home is insulated with Terra Lana 100% wool ceiling and floor insulation. It cost about 30 to 50% more but Anderson says the potential cost to his family’s health was a big influence in the decision to go with wool. “I felt that any product that you have to wear PPE to install can’t be good for you.” The immediate past chair of Federated Farmers Meat and Wool Industry Group was also wanted to support the sector.

“I was keen to use wool because I’m a wool grower.” The ordering was straightforward although it took a number of weeks for delivery because the product is manufactured on demand. The Andersons installed the insulation themselves. The walls took a weekend because the insulation had to be cut to fit, whereas the ceiling only took a day. “I think we’ve ended up with a healthier home. The wool breathes, it doesn’t have microfibers and its biodegradable. We also think the wool insulation will hold its shape and insulation qualities better than the synthetic product.” Terra Lana have trialed manufacturing insulation product from wool supplied direct by farmers. “We like the idea of trying to accommodate farmers but it’s challenging logistically. We have to work to minimum sized orders, so we have to assess the viability of each on a case by case basis,” Brad Stuart says. Farmers tend to assume that supplying their own wool will lead to significant cost savings. However, the major costs are in the actual manufacturing process, so it generally works out as a “cost neutral” exercise.



By the 1990s there were runholder frustrations with limits on development, and public frustrations with limits on access to the high country.

Pastoral leases and tenure review BY: TOM WARD


ome 20% of the South Island is termed high country, about 2.4 million hectares. Governance of pastoral leases (PL) by the Land Act 1948 is the result of a long history of changes. Originally, in the 1850s, lessees were given access to the high country for minimal rental, just to encourage these lands to be occupied. Over time the leases were formalised, initially for five-year terms, then eventually out to 35-year terms in the mid-1920s. There was still no security of tenure, and rentals were set at expiry by public tender. High country leases renewed in 1918 for example, a year of endless optimism, were very high, causing extreme distress during the depression years of the 192’s and 1930s. Some rents were suspended during those years and many farms became run down.


The 1948 Land Act set out to both (a) put an upper limit on the annual rent, and (b) give the runholder better tenure, which would encourage them to take a long-term view of their landholding. The result was a 33-year lease, perpetually renewable, with rent reviews of 2.25% of the land exclusive of improvements (LEI) every 11 years. This lease is called a pastoral lease (PL). All improvements, including induced fertility, would be owned by the lessee, who nevertheless would be required to farm under strictly pastoral conditions. Principal among these restrictions is a block on land development. Leaseholders had the right to quiet enjoyment and could stop the public accessing the property. As successive sales of leases showed, the runholder held a “virtual” freehold title, not through owning the soil, which he did not, but through holding a right in perpetuity to occupancy. What is important to understand,

and a point misunderstood by many New Zealanders, is that the Crown had reduced its property rights to very low levels. Under the legislation it could never hope to resume and farm the land, and its only source of income is rents which were deliberately set low. This fact had implications for setting rents and for tenure review (TR), which I will deal with in a later article. On the whole, the 1948 Land Act achieved its aims of maintaining the soil quality and natural ecosystems in the fragile high country areas, while giving a much better tenure framework to the lessee. By the 1990s there was runholder frustration with limits on development, and public frustrations with limits on access to the high country. Early in that decade, under the 1948 Land Act, some leases were subdivided by mutual agreement between Crown and lessee. Areas with conservation values, generally


November 2020

The Crown had reduced its property rights to very low levels. Under the legislation it could never hope to resume and farm the land, and its only source of income is rents which were deliberately set low.

Areas with conservation values, generally the higher altitude areas, were returned to the Crown (Department of Conservation - DOC) and destocked.

the higher altitude areas, were returned to the Crown (Department of ConservationDOC) and destocked, and the lower, more productive areas, with little areas of conservation value, transferred to the former lessee as freehold. The Crown Pastoral Lease Act of 1998 (CPLA) formalised this activity, which became known as TR, with the minister of the day stating that about one million hectares of conservation land

would eventually be returned to public ownership. There are 171 PLs covering 1.2 million hectares. About 313,000ha has been transferred to DOC since 1998, and 353,000ha has been transferred to former lessees as freehold. Over time, TR has become contentious, with critics claiming the Crown has been disadvantaged through (a) loss of natural habitat on the privatised areas, and (b)

Examples based on actual tenure review settlements Example 1:




Before pastoral lease




After Freehold residual land




Equalisation payment




After DOC estate




Example 2:




Before pastoral lease




After F/hold residual land




Equalisation payment




After DOC estate




Example 3




Before pastoral lease




After F/hold residual land




Equalisation payment




After DOC estate




This table shows quite different outcomes, before and after TR settlement. It demonstrates more clearly the different values resulting in the equalisation payments, however still does not show the variation due to differences in land class, improvements, easements.


November 2020

excessive remuneration to the former lessees. In 2007 the Labour government strived to bring down TR valuations by including amenity values in the rent calculations (which the government hoped would reduce the attractiveness of PLs) and by excluding lakeside property from TR. In late 2007 the Land Valuation Tribunal ruled that rents could only be based on pastoral values and the new Government reversed the policy of excluding lakeside properties from TR. Simultaneously, PL rents calculations were moved to be based on a lease’s assessed productivity. There is a general lack understanding of the valuation methodology and its effect on TR settlements, contributing to the public’s view that the Crown is being “ripped off”. Furthermore, using high end sales of stations like St James Station, Birchwood, Mototapu/Mt Soho, Hunter and Ryton Stations, all Pastoral Leases, to explain the high values the Crown has paid for TR settlements, is only a part of the equation. In February 2019 LINZ and DOC minister Eugenie Sage announced TR would end, and that she would bring to Parliament the Pastoral Land Reform Bill. Notwithstanding this Government’s planned changes to the Land Act, the rules have already changed with farmers subjected to updated RMA rules, District plans (PC 13), and the 2017 Environment Court decision by Judge Jon Jackson (April 13, 2017). Applying fertiliser is now a consented activity, however farmers are still required to control pests and weeds which are prolific. • Tom Ward is a farm management consultant based in Ashburton.



Metaphors, computers, and European holidays

Your everyday concept of models modelling the latest in fashion.



hen we were building our house, we were confused by the word “profile”. That piece of paper - oh it's a profile. That 3D computer graphic, that grid of string that we mustn’t touch, the walls of our house - all referred to as "profile". Kindly itemise your expenses for the bank’s profile. Can we use your photos to build our social media profile? Profile the profile for the profile, please. In the world of science, it is a similar story for the word “model”. In the broadest


sense of the word it means something along the lines of “organising ideas”. In more practical terms it could mean anything. It might be an excel spreadsheet with a few calculations in it. Or, data could be examined with a statistical model to see if, say, one species of pasture grows better than another. A model could be a whiteboard full of scribbles. Or, it might be an animal. At the university, we had “model animals” which were genetically modified with human genes. If you hang around with people who really enjoy the sound of their own voice, the model isn’t anything at all. It's a metaphor for the work that they want you

to believe has taken place - “we modelled this project on a tree. Here are the branches filled with empty promises. The roots represent the money you have parted with to climb up the trunk of enlightenment.” In my previous job, I was in the business of programming simulation models. I don’t even know if that is the correct term for them because we just called them “models”, but it is what I will call them for the sake of this article. Simulation models are the types of models where you put in some information and they “tell” you what is likely to happen. Think Farmax for farm financials and pasture growth or Overseer for nutrient


November 2020

If the model has enough levers (looking at you, Overseer), then a shameless operator can push buttons until they are rewarded with their desired answer, stamped with a vague scientific seal of approval.

leaching and greenhouse gas emissions. To be clear, I did not have a hand in either Farmax or Overseer. The models I worked on were obscure ones that simulated genetic scenarios for clients in charge of national breeding programmes. But, I expect the process of knocking these models together is much the same regardless of what they are simulating.

WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF A MODEL? Aside from being a fun way to jaunt around on someone else's dime, simulation models are useful to test a bunch of different scenarios. A physical experiment on the genetics of cow fertility might take decades to seek out all the cows with the correct genetics for the experiment and then follow them through their lifetime. And, once you were done, you might wonder what the results would have been like if you had made different management decisions. So, using a simulation model speeds things up. It is also one of the cheaper things you can achieve in the science world. "Cheap" is definitely in the eye of the beholder, but, in general, software is inexpensive compared to field trials. Software is also easily copied and distributed. So, it is easy enough to hand the model to others to use. If the model is robust enough to be handled by the general public then it can be another tool in the farmer toolbox. It's not all rainbows, however. Some of the weirdest accusations and some of the most bewildering government policies begin in a model. Because the model holds its user (and anyone who might disagree with them) a little further back from the science in use, some very strange statements can become fixtures in the public arena. For example, "Scientists say a single hamburger patty uses 2500 litres of water…"


November 2020

HOW TO BUILD A SIMULATION MODEL First, one scours the literature. One of the models I built was for simulating cow fertility. So, I dug deep into science papers to answer questions such as “how heavy does a heifer need to be to hit puberty?”, “What is the heritability of cow body condition scores?”, “How does milk production affect fertility?”, etc. When this was complete, there was a kind of skeleton of a model that would simulate a herd of cows going through their lifetime. Except there were lots of things we didn’t know because the science wasn’t there yet, such as “do cows with lower fertility breeding values have longer cycle lengths?”, or “How long does an unsuccessful cow pregnancy usually last for?” So, these things had to be guessed in the first instance. That was the fun bit. I got to travel to Europe to pressure dairy cow fertility experts into giving their best guesses. And then, it all had to be checked and calibrated against data from real cows. As the science caught up, we were able to see how close we had gotten to the real answer with educated guesses. It was pretty damn close even if I do say so myself.

WHEN IT ALL MAKES NO SENSE For every complex problem, there is a simple and elegant solution that will never work. The kind of solution that makes a ton of sense on paper, but breezes right over the important inner-workings of the problem, or incentivises the wrong behaviour and makes the situation worse. Our wide-eyed model can get us into a bit of trouble here because it really is just an echo chamber for scientific theory if used in the wrong hands. “Yes Master” the model says, helpfully, “I took all the information you told me you liked and proved, once again, that your thinking is correct”. If the model has enough levers (looking at you, Overseer), then a shameless operator can push buttons until they are rewarded with their desired answer, stamped with a vague scientific seal of approval. Models should not be the ultimate dictator of reality, or worse, used to police government regulations. But, because they are at the cheaper end of science delivery (i.e. often much more affordable to use than monitoring real world effects), there does seem to be an over reliance on models. When used correctly, models are a great way to foster communication and collaboration amongst scientists from different disciplines. That in itself is a huge achievement because it rarely happens by default. However, when it comes to the sharp and pointy litigation end of fixing real world problems, simulation models should not be the only voice in the room. The room needs to include real life humans providing real life observations and robust discourse. Even if it means a whole bunch of these boffins are abusing the word “model”.


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Toxoplasma is present on 100% of NZ farms1 and can cause ongoing losses or abortion storms. One shot of Toxovax gives lifetime protection to your ewes and provides an average 3% higher lambing percentage2. You can use Toxovax anytime up until 4 weeks prior to mating. It’s made-to-order, and we need your order at least 4 weeks in advance. So make sure you order it from your vet at least 8 weeks before you plan to introduce the ram.


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November 2020


Mash Direct works in conjunction with 52 other farms as demand for their produce grows.

Covid-19 boosts veg sales by 4000% BY: CHRIS MCCULLOUGH


Northern Ireland vegetable and arable farm that processes its own produce for direct sale experienced a 4000% sales boost forcibly generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Hamilton family run their onfarm business called Mash Direct just a few miles south of Belfast that grows a variety of vegetables and packages them pre-cooked for delivery to its network of retail outlets. Although the processing business was started back in 2004, the farm dates back to the 1800s and has been handed down six generations to be currently run by Martin, his wife Tracey and their sons Jack and Lance. Boosted by declining vegetable prices in the United Kingdom the Hamiltons first saw a niche in the market to add value to their own produce by starting to process vegetables on their own farm, thus the birth of Mash Direct.


November 2020

Today the Hamiltons farm 1400 acres (566 hectares) of vegetables on their own farm and also contract grow another 1500 acres (607ha) with 52 other farmers to ensure they have year-long supply to meet demand. All the vegetables are cooked to perfection using specially designed steam cookers on the farm to ensure that delicious taste and texture of homemade food. Suitable for microwave or oven heating the Mash Direct range is available to retail, food service and food manufacturing throughout the UK, Ireland, Middle East and beyond. Jack is chief operating officer while Lance assumes the role of sales director. Jack said Covid-19 prompted a huge spike in demand for their produce which saw the farm start its own online shop selling boxes of Mash Direct products with free delivery to consumers’ homes. “At this moment we have 55 products made here at Mash Direct including our

latest Cauliflower Bites which we just launched at the end of February,” Jack said. “As a sixth-generation family farm, our heritage was in delivering vegetables directly to the door. In the last few months the need for more simple processes has meant that we have returned to this, albeit with a modern twist by using e-commerce. “In the first few weeks of the pandemic, our sales rocketed by 4000% and we had to employ three additional people to help out and ensure that we didn’t have disappointed customers. “We then rolled out the Feed the Heroes campaign to deliver boxes directly to NHS key workers and sent over 2000 packs this way. This meant that the NHS staff were able to pick up boxes after their shifts at the hospital without having to brave the huge queues in stores. “While the volumes have dropped off slightly as things return to a new version of normal, our e-commerce sales are still going strong and have provided a fantastic Continues

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way for our biggest fans to receive our treatment facility, helping to futurenew products before anyone else,” he proof the business by reducing its carbon said. footprint and making the overall plant For the past 16 years the Hamilton more sustainable. family has been on a roller coaster Mash Direct will also increase its ride with Mash Direct and that high capacity for growth by adding new has prompted the popular agrifood production lines to its industrial kitchen business to embark on a major expansion so that it can produce new dishes and programme backed up with a £10 million increase production capacity. (NZ$19.5M) fund supplied by HSBC UK The business will add a new onion Bank. peeler that will free up space in its peeling Mash Direct has experienced significant area and is also investing in robotics and growth since its inception and is turning enterprise management software. over £18.5m (NZ$36m) a year. However “We are investing in our people and our there is room for further expansion plant to meet additional demand for the thanks to new markets overseas and a Mash Direct range. New markets as well as desire by the company growth in our existing markets to make its processing have meant that we need to more efficient and more expand and we aim to do this environmentally friendly. in the most sustainable way, “As we have continued to both environmentally and for grow, our supply base has our people,” Jack said. grown with us as we support “This means that we are farms across Northern investing in wind and solar Ireland to supply the Mash energy as well as a new Direct range to local and wastewater treatment facility. Mash Direct chief export markets,” Jack said. “More and more customers operating officer Jack Hamilton. “In total, we now have are asking for our new ranges 240 staff working with such as our Beer Battered us and are developing a new skills Chips, Beer Battered Onion Rings and our programme to further develop the careers salad lines and this means that we need of our team here,” he said. to grow our team and our plant. With over 20 Great Taste Awards to “Our energy at the moment is taken date, the Mash Direct range can be found from the grid and we plan to diversify in numerous retail outlets including into more renewable sources in the near major supermarket chains as well as other future. The first phase of this will be to independent stores. introduce solar and wind energy to Mash “We currently export to a wide variety Direct and we will be commissioning a of markets both close and far away Sustainability Report to understand what from home. You can find Mash Direct else we can improve here. products on the shelves today in Qatar, “By investing in greener technologies, UAE, Bahrain, Spain, Hong Kong and the we will reduce our carbon footprint. United States as well as in the UK and As a sixth generation family farm, Ireland.” the sustainability of the farm is very As part of the expansion plan new important to us as we wish to hand it solar and wind energy machinery will be down from generation to generation,” installed along with a new wastewater he added.


November 2020

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It’s hard to believe that hidden right on the coast in sunny, dry Hawke’s Bay is a microclimate that can deliver 375mm of rain overnight and snowfalls up to 1m deep. Russell Priest reports. Photos by Brad Hanson. 36


his environment only 34km south of Havelock North is the home of Ralph and Nadine Williams and their two sons, Jasper (17) and Henry (9), who own Waipoapoa Station on the coast at the end of the Maraetotara plateau. The 1200ha farm has an annual rainfall of 1780mm, and three years ago experienced a 1m snowfall that lasted a week. “There’s no land mass between us and the Antarctic,” Ralph said, “and when a southerly hits it can be a killer.” Waipoapoa Station sits on the main fault line that runs up the east coast, making the farm extremely unstable.


November 2020

Seventy five percent of Waipoapoa Station is broken country and steep sidlings.

“I’m always straightening up and tightening fence lines,” said Taine Repko, who has worked on the station for 18 years. “The place is on the move all the time.” Most of Waipoapoa’s 1200ha lie 500610m above sea level, experience long, cold winters and are particularly exposed to southerly weather, which brings rain. The contour is extremely variable with 300ha being easy, rolling country covered in deep volcanic ash from Mt Ruapehu. The rest consists of steep, bony hills covered in limestone boulders with soils being all sedimentary and showing the shattering effect of the fault line beneath.


November 2020

The unstable landscape means fencing of the steeper country has been minimised with a third of the farm being in five paddocks, one of which is 140ha. Ralph’s father, Peter, managed Waipoapoa from 1968 until he handed over the reins to Ralph in 1998. Ralph increased sub-division fencing and began to lift Olsen P (phosphate) levels from as low as four. After 20 years of P application they now average 17 – no mean feat considering the P retention of the soil is in the 90s. High sulphur levels are a feature of the soil but it needs lime – swede paddocks receive 2t lime/ha two years before the crop is sown.

Maintenance fertiliser of 200kg/ha of superphosphate is spread in the autumn. No nitrogen fertiliser is normally applied to pastures, but this year Ralph and Taine were forced into using it twice. Urea at 80kg/ha went on the lambing and finishing country in late winter as did 300kg/ha of Crop 15 on the young grass paddocks. “It’s the first winter since I have been here that we’ve used all our supplements, and these were gone by June. We normally carry 400 ten-bale equivalents of balage into the winter,” Ralph said. For the first time ever a 10ha crop of peas Continues

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Ralph Williams (left) and Taine Repko.

and oats is being grown to be turned into balage to replenish the winter reserves. They use Kelso maternal and terminal rams, and Ralph and Taine can’t speak more highly of the performance of their progeny under challenging conditions. “We try to buy the best genetics we can afford and feed the stock well so that the genetics will flourish,” Ralph said. He describes Kelso maternals as having good natural fertility/fecundity with few wet-dries, good udders, moderate ewe size, and good survivability, longevity and temperament. The ewe hoggets are a lot more precocious than Romneys, are free moving, and rugged. “They have to be tough here because winters are particularly harsh and pasture growth is minimal. Sheep must have the ability to put on weight during the spring and summer and retain this during the winter.”


While he and Taine feed the stock well they welcome the animals being put under pressure at times to sort out “the wheat from the chaff.” “We don’t want soft animals. If they can’t handle it they go down the road,” Ralph said.

MATING MANAGEMENT They try to flush the ewes before mating, but if they can’t their fall-back position is that the ewes are in good condition. The hill paddocks are used for mating with three mobs being involved: the fiveand six-year mob, the MA ewes and the two-tooths. Mobs are moved regularly during this period. Mating begins on February 18 with about 1000 five- and six-year ewes being mated to Kelso Terminal rams for about 40 days. Because of the drought the main mob was mated on March 15, 10 days early, to

Kelso Maternal rams for 40 days at a ratio of 1:80. “The reason we did this was because the condition was starting to fall off them alarmingly and the grass was running out, however, they still scanned in the early 180s,” Ralph said. The average lambing percentage for the 3000 MA ewes is normally 140% but he thinks this year may be better. He expects the total lamb crop to be about 5100 including hogget lambs. Hogget mating was also brought forward 10 days to April 10. Two major culls of hoggets are made in summer, based on size, structural correctness and type, before the final 1050 are vaccinated and then mated for 40 days. “Early mating of hoggets means you don’t get those late lambs that hang around until May,” Ralph said. Usually about 900 hoggets get in lamb.


November 2020

FARM FACTS: • Waipoapoa Station, Central Hawke’s Bay. • 1200ha (1067ha effective), 150ha leased. • Sheep breeding CENTRAL and lamb finishing. HAWKE’S BAY • Cattle breeding and trading. • Breeds Hereford yearling bulls for the dairy industry. • Greenfeed crops for finishing lambs, swedes for wintering ewes. • On a major fault line with landscape constantly moving. • Elevated, harsh winter environment with high rainfall.

After mating they enter their own winter rotation to grow them steadily through to lambing. They receive a drench capsule before being set stocked for lambing at 9.3/ha on sheltered paddocks previously lambed on by the five- and six-year ewes. “We don’t go near them at lambing time and they deliver 950-1000 lambs with the loss of only about 10 hoggets,” Taine said. Waipoapoa buys specialist Kelso Ewe Hogget Terminal blackface ram hoggets, for mating with the ewe hoggets, for which it pays $500. The lambs are small and vigorous, wasting no time in getting to their feet and having their first feed. Ralph and Taine consider the Terminal ram hoggets to be a crucial part of their successful ewe hogget mating programme. After weaning, the hoggets are fed as well as possible in readiness for two-tooth mating. When selecting their $1500 Kelso Maternal rams, Ralph and Taine focus on SIL’s maternal index with a particular emphasis on early growth and survivability. They’re hoping to investigate Kelso rams being offered as a finer wool option this year. “I like a good looking sheep with sound constitution and can’t stand things like crook feet, pink noses and black spots,” Ralph said. Ralph and Taine particularly like the wide range of breeding values offered when selecting rams, the business’s scientific approach to breeding and the excellent advice they get from the Kelso team.


November 2020

Top: In-lamb Kelso Maternal ewe hoggets among limestone boulders. Above: A Kelso Maternal ewe with twins.

“Southland” wintering system In spite of Ralph’s being on Waipoapoa for 22 years he admits it took him and Taine 15 years to develop a system that works in the challenging environment, particularly in the winter. To overcome this they have returned to the Southland tradition of wintering ewes on swedes. “It gives the pastures a six-week spell before the ewes are set stocked for lambing, and allows us to build covers of up to 1500kg DM to lamb on,” Ralph said. Taine maintains the ewes do amazingly well on swedes, but they seem to need the fibre provided by the balage to hold their condition. The three mating mobs of ewes end their individual winter rotations on grass before being scanned and moved onto a 20ha crop of swedes where they are break fed and supplemented with mature balage. Ewes come straight off the swedes and

onto their lambing paddocks, which by then have accumulated excellent covers. The old ewes and their lambs come off the hills towards the end of August, and after docking are rotated on 80ha of Shogun perennial high-sugar ryegrass for 90 days. Subsequently 80% of the lambs are POM at 19.5kg and the remainder are weaned and put back on the same area. All the six-year ewes and cull five-year ewes are killed at the same time, thereby relieving pressure on the finishing areas and making way for the Kelso Maternal male lambs after weaning. “Our country is not too hard on teeth so we are able to carry most five-year ewes for another year. However, once they get to six-year-olds they start to fall apart,” Ralph said. Weaning of the Kelso Maternal lambs Continues

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R1 Hereford bulls are on a 35-day winter rotation.

occurs during the first week of December, after which ewes are shorn. A big draft (1100) of mainly Kelso Maternal lambs is taken in early January, averaging about 18.6kg. This leaves about the right number of lambs to stock the finishing country. About 500 finished lambs leave the station a month after the big draft, at an average weight of 20kg. All male lambs remaining after the big draft are shorn along with the ewe lambs. “We’ve tried buying in finishing lambs in the past with limited success, so I’ve decided it’s better to keep our lambs longer and put more weight on them, especially with drench resistance becoming more common,” Ralph said. Last year the finishing area was planted in clovers but Poa annua started to invade the stands so Ralph and Taine were advised to replace it with Shogun ryegrass and

were assured the lambs would perform just as well as on clover. “The beauty with grass is that you have more spray options than clover. However, with Shogun the secret is not to graze it too hard,” Ralph said. Ralph and Taine are strong believers in maintaining ewe bodyweight on as even a keel as possible throughout the year, so after weaning their goal is to try to ensure ewes don’t lose bodyweight over the summer. A pre-tupping flush of the ewes is a bonus if it can be achieved.

COWS POWER PASTURE CLEAN-UP Hereford breeding cows have taken care of the pastures on Waipoapoa since 1968 when Ralph’s father introduced them to the station. Without the power of the cow to clean up the extensive hill pastures the sheep would not be able to flourish.

Genes from the renowned Chesterman stud Hereford herd (Koanui) just down the road have had a profound influence on the station’s herd ever since. The yearling bull dairy market provides Ralph and Taine with a bit more of an incentive to feed the herd well over the spring/summer with a view to weaning as many 300kg bull calves as possible. About 134 are sold annually to dairy farmers in November at about 400kg. Weaner bulls and heifers are wintered on separate 40ha blocks at 3/ha on some of the best easy-rolling country on the station. The blocks are divided into 3ha paddocks with electric fences, and animals are shifted every 3-4 days. The winter rotation length is about 35-40 days. The R1 Hereford heifers are culled from 140 to 100 keepers at the end of August with culling based mainly on size, type



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November 2020

Top: A Chesterman-bred Hereford herd sire. Above left: Taine Repko. Above right: Kelso Maternal ewes.

and soundness. The culls are retained and, along with 140 good Angus weaner heifers bought in the autumn, are carried through two winters before being mated as twoyear olds and sold in-calf in the autumn as R3s for about $1600-$1750. The keeper heifers are vaccinated against bovine viral diarrhoea and leptospirosis, and single-sire mated, at 1:50 starting on November 1 for six weeks, to two low birthweight estimated breeding value (EBV) Hereford bulls. After a cycle the two bulls are swapped over to the other heifer mob. “If we get over 10 dries we’re disappointed and we have had as few as two,” Ralph said. In-calf R2 heifers are wintered on grass,


November 2020

usually boxed in with the R3s, so they don’t get any special treatment. Calved behind a hot wire they get a fresh break each day but if the weather is inclement they get two breaks. After calving they get shifted onto ad-lib grass. “We have a set of yards nearby if we have any calving problems. We generally calve about 10 out of 90,” Taine said. Bulls are used over the heifers for about three years until they become too big for them, after which they are used exclusively over the cows. “We buy the best two bulls we can afford at Chesterman’s sale and try to get curve benders so we can use them over both heifers and cows without compromising growth,” Ralph said.

STOCK • 3000 Kelso Maternal ewes • 900 in-lamb Kelso Maternal ewe hoggets • 170 Hereford MA cows • 90 R3 in-calf Hereford heifers • 90 R2 in-calf Hereford heifers • 200 R2 Angus and Hereford trading heifers • 200 R1 Angus and Hereford trading heifers • 150 R1 Hereford bulls • 50:50 cattle to sheep ratio.


›› 41

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November 2020

Top: 300ha of Waipoapoa is easy rolling country. Above: Ralph Williams.


November 2020

Last year an average of $12,500 was paid to secure two bulls, both of which Ralph and Taine are delighted with. Balanced EBVs are what Ralph and Taine look for when selecting bulls, with a particular focus on the milk and 400-day weight EBVs, and, most importantly, good temperament. The MA cows spend the winter cleaning up the five large hill paddocks before being calved down in a 140ha sheltered basin paddock. Calving begins on August 20 and Ralph says they would normally get 150 calves from the 170 cows. Mustered out of the calving area at the end of October, the cows and calves are placed in a paddock with good covers that has previously been occupied by lambing hoggets and shut up for six weeks. Three bulls go out with a mob of about 150 MA cows in early November. The mob spends the spring and early part of summer rotating around paddocks of ewes and lambs mopping up the surplus feed. Ralph commented that the occasional bull has a strongly territorial nature, which is not desirable in a multi-sire mating situation, so he is culled. Weaning occurs in early March with cows and calves put on opposite sides of a fence topped with a hot wire. After three days

the calves are moved away and drenched. Further drenches are given at no more than five-weekly intervals until the shortest day with two given between that day and spring. No further drenches are given after that. Growing of green-feed crops forms an important part of the farming calendar on Waipoapoa. Swedes are grown as part of an annual pasture renewal programme to plug a gap in the farm’s winter feed deficit. Spring sown Shogun perennial ryegrass, which is replaced every four years, follows swedes in the cropping rotation. This year Ralph and Taine intend to grow 8ha of rape for lamb finishing, then shut it up and block graze the regrowth with two-tooth ewes after scanning so they don’t have to compete with the older ewes on the swedes. Pastures are frequently renewed using the technique of going from grass-to-grass. Taine Repko has worked with Ralph on Waipoapoa for a long time and is one of the business’s greatest assets. He is thoroughly familiar with the management system that he and Ralph have perfected over the last 15 years. Nadine, Ralph’s wife, worked from home as a travel broker before Covid-19 struck, and now spends most of her unpaid time refunding travel tickets.



Commercial ewes carrying this spring’s drop of lambs in the Low Input Sheep Progeny Test at Orari Gorge.

Promising start to Low Input Sheep Progeny Test Failing drenches, labour shortages, and consumer preference for minimal chemical inputs are why a low input sheep progeny test is essential for the future of the New Zealand industry, says a South Canterbury farmer. Andrew Swallow reports.


ttempting to finish lambs after weaning without drenches, and mostly on grass, sounds like a recipe for disaster, but a major project in South Canterbury shows it can be done. Of 450 male lambs produced in the first year of the test, all but 20 were fit for slaughter by mid-May, and many well before that. Ewe lambs, retained for further assessments, demonstrated similar weight gains. In the case of males, the overall growth rates were achieved despite going backwards for three weeks in February. This was when they were forced to graze


paddocks to golf-green level in order to increase the worm challenge and hopefully tease out differences in genetic ability to cope. These were findings from the Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Genetics low input sheep progeny test (LISPT). The lambs were from artificial insemination of 1000 commercial ewes at Orari Gorge Station, inland of Geraldine, with 17 rams from 15 stud flocks across the country. They were mostly from breeders focusing on disease and worm resistance and animal welfare as well as the usual growth and carcase quality traits, but a few were

from out-and-out production-focused studs. Breeds included pure-bred Romney, Perendale, Coopworth, Finn and Wiltshire, and a range of maternal and terminal composites. Scanning revealed 70% in lamb, which host farmer Robert Peacock said he was happy given the use of AI, and 920 lambs resulted. At tailing, leg and tail length and area of bare skin at the breech were measured. Only ewe lambs were docked: males were made cryptorchids but kept their tails in light of concerns tailing might become a negative for some markets. Tail length ranged 15 to 32cm, averaging 23.7cm, with lambs sired by Finn and


November 2020


Texel-based composites having the shortest tails; Perendale, Coopworth and Wiltshire-sired lambs the longest. Progeny of the Wiltshire sire had the largest bare-breech area, closely followed by a three-quarter Romney. At weaning, December 12, all lambs were dipped and drenched with a triple, and males crutched to provide an equal start to the trial thereafter, even though only 5% were dirty. A control mob of 20 late-born twin lambs from Orari’s commercial Romneys was added to the males. Male and female mobs were then turned out on to lambing paddocks to ensure they faced a worm challenge. However, by February the faecal egg count (FEC) of the males was averaging only 463, hence the decision to graze harder to raise the burden. Average FEC of the ewe lambs was already 1615 although some had nil and others over 2000, demonstrating the range of parasite resistance among them, notes Peacock. By the second FEC timing, in May, the tables were reversed, the males’ FEC averaging 2500 but females’ 750. “Females develop their immune system earlier than males so that was


November 2020

probably starting to kick-in to reduce that worm burden.” In May there were still some lambs returning nil FEC results, which, given the challenge they’d faced, was “pretty impressive,” he added.

CONTROL LAMBS DRENCHED Several rams’ progeny, notably a Romney and a couple of Coopworths, had markedly lower FEC scores, but two Romney rams were also among the bottom three. The project report notes some rams were from flocks not selecting for parasite resistance. Besides FEC assessments post weaning, males were yarded, weighed and scored for dags roughly every four weeks thereafter, with the control lambs drenched at each yarding. Despite those drenches, mean weight of the control mob in May was still about 2kg less than the trial mob, having started out at 5kg lighter. “The growth rate of the control and the trial lambs wasn’t that different,” observes Peacock. Dags were scored at weaning (Dec 12) and in February (females Feb 10, males Feb 18). Despite the males having tails, Continues


It doesn’t matter whether you’re farming in the North or South Island: the Low Input Sheep Progeny Test will help the industry breed sheep that are more profitable in future, says West Waikato breeder Kate Broadbent, one of six farmers on the test steering committee. “The industry as a whole has to be able to reduce inputs, especially drenches and labour,” she told CountryWide. “When lambs are making $9/kg we don’t mind too much putting the time in to dag and drench lambs, but if it drops to $4/kg, ewe numbers are going to plummet again.” But that exodus might not happen if farmers have flocks of ewes capable of weaning their own weight in lambs without a drench or a dag, she argues. First-year results of the test suggest that is possible if the right genetics are combined with smart management. “I think we were all pleasantly surprised with how well the lambs grew. They weren’t the fastest but it demonstrated what we can do with absolutely minimal drenches. It shows that commercially maybe only one or two drenches could be adequate instead of every 28 days. A good percentage of these lambs’ tails were still clean.” Besides demonstrating what’s possible and identifying genetics to select from, the test is also providing good links between sires, so breeders involved can assess performance of home flocks relative to others. However, like Peacock, Broadbent stresses that the sires in the test are just reference sires, so producers shouldn’t judge the supplying stud flock on the reference sire’s performance in the test. An interesting feature of the test for the coming year will be what rams to inseminate the first year’s ewe lambs with when they return from AgResearch’s methane work. “It’s a real fruit salad of hoggets we have there now, from Finns to Texel and everything in between.” Long-term she’d like to see a parallel North Island test set up so rams could also be assessed for location specific problems such as facial eczema and barbers’ pole (Haemonchus spp) worms.

›› Continues


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November 2020

“there wasn’t a big difference between the girls and the boys.” Mean score for females and males rose between the two timings, from 0.61 to 1.53 for the females and 0.88 to 2.00 for the males, but within that there were still “plenty with zero dags right through into May, probably about 20%, and 20 or 30% were just ones or twos.” In line with the project report’s note that dagginess isn’t strongly correlated with FEC, some rams’ progeny with the best mean FEC results had the worst dag scores, and vice versa. Ewe lambs were shorn in March, which took about 2kg off them, then run with teasers in May. When the teasers were removed, on May 27, average liveweight was 38kg but many lighter lambs had still been marked (see table). “It was a good example of why you shouldn’t let the ram decide which girls are ready to lamb as hoggets. It’s going to end in trouble!” There were substantial differences in onset of oestrus among the lambs. Only 19% of one Romney ram’s progeny were marked, despite their liveweight being in line with the mean, while 100% of a three-quarter Texel/quarter Perendale sire’s daughters were marked. With a mean of just under 39kg the TexPer ram’s progeny “weren’t the heaviest either,” noted Peacock, that accolade going to a Romney sire’s daughters. While not formally recorded, and despite males being cryptorchids, sexual activity also appeared sire- or, more likely, breed-related in the male lamb mobs. The progeny of Finn or Finn-cross rams, in particular, spent more time fighting with their counterparts towards the end of the trial, which probably affected growth rates. However, most of those lambs would have already been killed under non-trial circumstances. “We would have liked to have two kill dates but, for the purposes of the test, one later kill date was decided on so that we could collect as much data as possible.” Due to the practicalities of booking works space with BLG staff on hand to record test data, the kill date has to be booked months in advance, he points out. One of the main changes for the coming year’s work will be a March kill date. “If we bring it forward it will be more realistic, but not all the sires in the test have been chosen for high growth –


November 2020

Ewe lambs marked by teasers Ewe lamb liveweight

No. in liveweight range

No. marked


















Total Lambs

441 (175 unmarked)



they’re in there for other reasons,” he notes. The 400 or so ewe lambs from last year’s drop will be divided into sire groups as hoggets, then a few from each group will be allocated to all sires in the test, except their own if still participating, for insemination. Mothering ability and lamb survival will be monitored, in addition to other test traits. In the meantime, 10 daughters of each sire have been at AgResearch for feed efficiency and methane emission measurements. While full data on that work are still to be analysed and released, Peacock said he’d just heard they’d put on 320g/day over eight weeks to average 56kg by the start of September.

TEST SHOWS VALUE OF HIGH-PROTEIN PASTURE One aspect of feeding that the test’s already highlighted is the value of high protein pasture such as pure clover. After slowing the rotation of male lambs on traditional ryegrass-clover paddocks in February to raise the worm burden, once

FARM FACTS: • Land: 4300ha split 10% flats, 15% downs, 75% steep hill/ tussock rising to 1100m. • Rain: 1200mm/year average at homestead. • Stock: 23,000 stock units; 50% sheep, 25% cattle, 25% deer. • Commercials: 7000 Romney ewes, 450 Hereford cows, 1550 English Red hinds, 200 stags. • Studs: 1200 Romney, RomTex SufTex ewes; 250 Hereford cows. • 7 full time staff.

he was confident that had been achieved, and because lambs were losing weight, Peacock temporarily put them on to pure stands of red clover to recover. “In three or four days they looked like different sheep,” he recalls. Without a drench, growth resumed and by slaughter the mean growth rate from weaning to May 18 was more than 100g/day. Continues

›› 47

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November 2020


Average liveweight of male lambs by sire


fast. Maybe move your drench interval out by a week or two, and don’t cull as many ewe lambs at weaning… you need to give them a chance for their immune system to develop so you can select those that can cope with a worm challenge, as well as all your other normal selection criteria. “This isn’t a silver bullet and it’s quite a slow process to breed worm resistance into your flock.”

The concept for the Low Input Sheep Progeny Test came from discussions with like-minded breeders and geneticists at the Beef + Lamb Genetics conference in Napier in 2017, says Robert Peacock of test host, Orari Gorge Station. Breeding sheep resistant to internal parasites has long been a passion of his: it was the subject of his thesis at university 25 years ago and he’s been putting theory into practice ever since with the family’s Romney stud and, in turn, commercial Romney ewe flock on the station. Adult ewes haven’t been drenched since the mid 1990s and ewe lambs get three or four drenches at most. That’s despite the property, which stretches from the top of the Canterbury Plain behind Geraldine back into the Four Peaks range, facing a regular worm challenge thanks to its reliable summer rainfall and grass growth. That, and the station’s scale (see Farm Facts), made it an ideal place to run the LISPT. “I was worried it might not go ahead if we didn’t host it,” he adds. Nationally, with drench failures becoming widespread and labour to administer them increasingly scarce, not to mention global consumer demand for less chemical use in food production, he believes the project’s essential for the future of the NZ sheep industry. “I know of stations that were three or four labour units down last season. They sold their lambs store at weaning simply because they didn’t have enough labour to put the systems in place to feed, weigh, drench and crutch lambs through to finishing.” Besides support from Orari Gorge, other breeders and Beef + Lamb NZ Genetics, MPI’s Sustainable Farming Fund has contributed $600,000 towards the test’s first three years’ work.

*Webinar available on YouTube. Search Low Input Progeny Test. Fast forward to 5mins 40secs to skip the intro.

A report on the first year’s results is at - scroll down the page to find the link.

Liveweight (kg)




mahi 30


endales 12/12/2019






Despite a severe feed check in February to boost worm burdens, nearly all lambs reached kill weights without drenching.

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November 2020


“These lambs faced a significant worm challenge and they were still growing quite well: 100g/day may not sound very exciting but it’s about the national average, and nationally most lambs are drenched regularly, so this shows it can be done without drenches.” The best growth lambs were sired by a 3/4 Romney, closely followed by a Finn and a Coopworth. The Coopworth’s male progeny also had the third lowest FEC scores, but the Romney with the lowest FEC scores was also the lowest for growth. Peacock warns against reading too much into any one breed or ram’s individual performance in the test’s first-year results, or extrapolating those to form a general judgement about the supplier stud’s genetics, because the rams were supplied as reference sires. Rather, potential ram buyers should look at the Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL) data for rams they’re interested in, and whether the stud is part of the LISPT as all data from the test will go into SIL. “For me the biggest thing overall is how well they all coped without drenches. We live in a summer safe rainfall area, and with that comes plenty of worms.” Having commercial Orari Gorge ewes as mothers, which have long been selected for worm resistance (see Project Background), would have helped, he acknowledges. For farmers seeking to reduce drench dependence in their own flocks he suggests a staged approach. “Be careful not to do too much, too

Progeny test-host farmer Robert Peacock.



Staff at Central Otago’s Ida Valley station condition score ewes.

Scoring animals, assessing pastures valuable for farmers BY: DR KEN GEENTY


se of quick and easy body condition scoring of sheep and cattle, and visual assessment of pastures, are great monitoring tools for farmers. As day-to-day indicators they are handy for tactical management decisions but don’t fully replace strategic livestock weighing and objective pasture measures. The well-known maxim, that good onfarm management decisions come from good information, very much applies here. Body condition scoring in adult sheep or cattle is a means of comparing animals regardless of breed or body frame size. Condition scoring basically measures the amount of subcutaneous fat and supporting muscle – in other words, indicating stored energy or a spare gas tank. But care is needed in using this spare gas as a buffer when feed is short as it is very expensive to replace. For example, in sheep and cattle each kilogram of


liveweight lost is equivalent to about 17 megajoules of pasture energy (MJME) saved but to replace that kg takes around 65 MJME in extra feed consumed. Furthermore mobilisation of stored body energy from tissues for milk production is very inefficient at around 45%. Dietary energy has a higher conversion efficiency to milk of about 68%. In ewes, the net result of losing one condition score or 6kg liveweight, and then later replacing that lost weight, would approximate an additional cost of 24kg of pasture drymatter per ewe. For a 2000 ewe flock this would equate to the equivalent of annual feed for an additional 130 ewes. Similar rationale would apply for liveweight loss and regain in beef breeding cows. So maintaining body condition score in breeding ewes or cows, as evenly as possible throughout the production cycle, is much more efficient with less feed used than taking weight off and putting it back on. Therefore stable liveweight and a

condition score around the range average lead to optimum use of pasture for good reproductive performance. Measuring and monitoring body condition score is quick and easy. In breeding ewes there is a condition score range of 1-5, with 1 being extra lean and 5 grossly overfat. In between, a score of 2 is lean or equivalent to backward store, 3 is forward store, and 4 is fat. Condition scoring is tactile by running your hand over the vertical and horizontal spinal processes along the loin area and allocating a score relating to the amount of tissue covering the underlying bone. Once you are calibrated and confident, around three seconds is all that is needed to score each animal. With breeding cows the method is by visually assessing the backbone, short ribs, hips and pin bones at the rear adjacent to the top of the tail. There are two scoring ranges: one is 1-5 but some use a larger range of 1-10. Similarly to breeding ewes, the lower the score the leaner the animal.


November 2020

ASSESSING PASTURE COVERS Feeding ewes or cows to maintain good body condition and high reproductive performance can be assisted greatly through visual pasture assessments. The basis of visual pasture assessments is relating pasture cover to feed available for grazing animals – supposedly difficult task due to variation in pasture density and composition. However, the method can be surprisingly accurate for individuals who are confident and well calibrated. Calibration is against more objective methods such as rising plate meters, pasture capacitance meters or pasture rulers for height measurement. However, these methods often lose accuracy due to variables such as moderate to excessive


November 2020

Generalised seasonal conversion of pasture length to drymatter per hectare for average ryegrass-clover pastures Source: A guide to feed planning for sheep farmers. NZ Sheep Council 1999.


Pasture dry matter (kg DM/ha)

Time taken to score each breeding cow is less than three seconds once confident with the technique. Even with effective body condition scoring, weighing of breeding animals at key times, such as pre-mating and weaning, is strongly advised. A unit change on body condition score in ewes and cows is approximately equivalent to 10% of liveweight. This equates to 5-7kg for each condition score change in ewes and 45-55kg using the 1-5 scale with breeding cows. The trick with using body condition scores is to maintain animals at or just above the range mid-point for as much of the year as possible. This will be particularly difficult with pregnant animals when inevitable loss of condition should be minimized by providing feed as high in quality as possible. This will enable animals to get close to the feed intakes required despite space restrictions due to the growing and developing foetus. To monitor a mob of ewes or cows it is suggested you condition score around 10% of the animals, taking care to spread your sample throughout the mob. For example, estimate the total number requiring measurement then divide that by the approximate number of feed-in pens- or race-fulls. Remember to record all scores and mob details, date, and condition score average/range. More detail on the technique of condition scoring of breeding ewes or cows can be found on the Beef+Lamb New Zealand website, at https://beeflambnz. com, and searching on body condition scoring.

Summer Autumn





2500 2000


1500 1000 500



10 Pasture length (cm)


Generally shorter pastures, 2-7cm are best for sheep, and longer pastures, 5-15cm are better for cattle as they are gross feeders.

Condition scoring basically measures the amount of subcutaneous fat and supporting muscle – in other words, indicating stored energy or a spare gas tank. dead material in the sward. For this reason a well calibrated operator has advantages over these measurement devices, and because visual assessment is so quick and convenient there is more encouragement for farmers to use it. The most accurate measurement method of all for weight of pasture drymatter per hectare is pasture cuts using small quadrats. These can be protected from grazing animals using exclusion cages if pasture growth is being measured. This technique is laborious and time consuming and used mainly for experimentation. The all-important operator calibration for visual pasture assessment is normally done by a professional expert as a group exercise, often with the aid of a pasture meter. Some guidelines are available in The Q-Graze Manual produced by AgResearch. As a general guideline, visual pasture assessments are predominantly based on pasture length, making allowances for variation between seasons and among pasture types with differing composition. The generalised relationship between pasture length and yield for an average ryegrass-clover pasture is shown in the illustration above. For both breeding ewes and beef breeding cows priorities for maximum intake are in spring during the lactation and progeny rearing period. Obviously

requirements will vary with different management practices such as set-stocking or rotational grazing. For set-stocking of ewes and lambs during spring, pasture levels should be maintained at about 1000kg drymatter (DM) per hectare or 3cm length. For cows and calves set-stocked over the same period pastures should be around 12cm length, equating to about 2500kg DM per hectare. With more commonly used rotational grazing, ewes and lambs can graze pastures from entry at 4-5cm down to around 2cm before moving on whereas cows and calves can go from 15cm down to 5cm. These guidelines imply “luxury feeding” which is required to achieve adequate intakes for the best results during this crucial lactation period. The very basic measuring and monitoring principles outlined in the graph may in some cases be a step towards more sophisticated measurement and/ or computer assisted models. But even where more advanced animal and pasture measurements are already being used these very simple scoring methods can be most useful for short-term tactical management. Remember the maxim cited at the start – good onfarm management decisions come from good information! • Dr Geenty is a primary industries consultant.


Brent Mathews.



November 2020


Triplet-bearing ewes.

Triplets the icing on the cake Multiples, short pasture, good genetics, careful paddock management - essential elements in this successful hill country farm business, as Russell Priest reports. Photos by Brad Hanson.


nlike many hill country farmers who regard triplets as a liability, Ormondville’s Brent Mathews welcomes them. “Good triplet results allow us to do our capital development out of cashflow,” Brent said. Not surprising, given that last year the farm business showed a cash surplus of $1034/hectare (gross income $1551/ha less operating costs of $517/ha) and extremely low personal drawings. In the seven years Brent and his partner Carlene Belcher have been on their farm (Bywell) they have completed significant capital investments including 12km of traditional fencing, new cattle yards, four sets of satellite yards and are about to build a new woolshed. Last year, cashflow also provided $200,000 to buy a herd of cows and to buy


November 2020

out the investor who helped finance the farm. Brent believes anybody who doesn’t capitalise on triplets is missing a huge opportunity. His aim is to maximise their potential. In a good mating about 28% of his wet ewes are scanned with triplets. They are kept separate from the rest of the ewes and lambed on some of the easier country at 6/ha, docking between 230240%. Last year Brent weighed a randomly selected set of triplets. The lightest was 32kg and the heaviest 38kg so the ewe would have weaned over 100kg of lamb. Brent continually sets new performance targets. He entered the National Ewe Hogget competition recently, winning the wool section, and one of the judges asked him what his docking percentage goal was. “When I told him it was 200% he looked at me as though I was joking but I believe

you’ve got to have production targets otherwise you’ll go backwards.” However, he’s still got a long way to go. His average over the last four years has been a creditable 164% with a high of 169%. “Our aim in farming is to keep things simple and do the basics well. Our system works for us. We farm the classes of stock that we like, and at present sheep and beef cattle are very profitable.” Brent and Carlene farm 642ha (594ha effective, the rest in plantation forestry) near Ormondville in southern Hawke’s Bay. It is strong, predominantly mediumto-steep hill country rising from 360 metres at the house to 625m at its highest point. Most of the farm sits on a limestone seam that runs up the east coast of the North Island. Brent classes it as late country that doesn’t experience a lot of

›› Continues 53

Bywell ranges in contour between easy rolling and steep.

FARM FACTS • “Bywell” - 642ha (594ha effective) • Sheep and beef breeding and finishing farm • 25km east north-east of Dannevirke • 30% flat-to-medium hill, balance steep • Owners Brent Matthews and Carlene Belcher • Strong focus on stockmanship and animal welfare • Last four years averaged 164% lambing • Short, high quality grass • GFI $1551/ha, working expenses $517/ha


weather extremes (rainfall 1300-1400mm annually) but when it does it recovers quickly. Summers have a lot of misty days keeping ground moisture levels up. The predominant wind is from the west, but the south-easterly is the most damaging because it can kill a lot of new-born lambs. While Brent maintains their success can be attributed to the strong country and the genetics of the cattle and particularly the sheep they use, there are other contributing factors. Foremost is his excellent grazing management and stockmanship with a strong emphasis on animal condition, maintained by micro-managing paddock stocking rates. “While many farmers’ primary focus is on pasture covers, mine is on animal condition and welfare. Observation to me is

the most important part of farming.” For many farming operations Brent prefers to deal with paddock mobs rather than, for example, bringing his whole ewe flock in for vaccinating. This means he is better able to avoid bad weather, and doesn’t have large numbers of animals hanging around yards for long. “Animals are not eating and producing when they’re in the yards, and ewes with multiple pregnancies can develop metabolic problems if held for too long off pasture.” Although Brent prefers set stocking he doesn’t avoid rotational grazing. Ewes are rotated from weaning until the end of July/ early August, then normally set stocked for lambing, with triplets at 6/ha, twins at 8/ha and singles at 13/ha. Ewe condition mainly determines when ewes are set stocked, not a fixed date.


November 2020

In-calf Angus R2 heifers.

Short-grass farmers Long grass a mere 5-10cm high is like a red rag to a bull to Brent, so he doesn’t shut paddocks up because he believes quality can be lost very quickly. Lambs are often weaned onto paddocks they’ve just come off. He aims to feed short, leafy pasture to his stock all year round. “We are short-grass farmers and believe in quality feed and in getting the best out of the whole farm, not just the good country, cos it’s the whole farm that contributes to the bottom line. “When you buy a farm you pay for every hectare so why not graze every hectare.” He confessed he had to take the short-grass farming philosophy to the extreme this year with the drought, and consequently production will suffer. Rather than accept giveaway prices for some of his lambs he held on to them at the expense of ewe bodyweight. “I had to box all the ewes together in the rotation this year; it was the only way I


November 2020

could get through the winter.” When he and Carlene took over the farm in November 2013 it was covered in rank grass, so 350 beef breeding cows were brought in. “All the neighbours thought we were nuts, and we probably were, but it cleaned the place up to the state in which I wanted it to be.” Grazing cows continued as part of the farming philosophy until last year when they outlaid $200,000 for their own Angus herd. “The cows improved our sheep performance markedly by cleaning up the roughage, and now the quality of grass doesn’t change from the bottom to the top of the hills.” Operating a farm with such low pasture covers all year round and at a stocking rate of 12.2 stock units/ha requires a large degree of confidence in the ability of the soils and the climate to deliver the grass

when it is required. The timing of lambing and calving in relation to the pasture growth curve is pivotal, and Brent admits that the late winter period immediately prior to lambing can be a real juggling act. He goes around his farm regularly, constantly manipulating paddock stocking rates to ensure stock condition is maintained. “I carry enough stock through the winter to be able to fully control pasture growth through the spring and summer, with late winter/early spring being the pinch point.” Brent believes that a high stocking rate offers production opportunities in a good year, while the bad years can be dealt with by adjusting stock numbers. Pasture growth starts to lift significantly towards the end of September, and by December the place is a sea of white clover, ideal for weaning lambs onto. Single-bearing ewes and late-calving cows are his safety valves as they are able


to be closed down if covers get too low. This is one of the reasons why he calves his cows so late. Fertility, fecundity, longevity and lamb survival are the four traits Brent emphasises, and being able to get this information is one of the reasons he buys his rams from Forbes and Angus Cameron. “There wouldn’t be another Romney breeder in the country who gets such a high lambing percentage while putting his sheep under so much pressure.” Brent only buys rams out of ewes that have scanned and reared twins at every lambing for a number of lambings rather than young ewes that are unproven and may be culled subsequently. “A significant number of the Cameron ewes are over eight years old and are still rearing good twins and triplets.” For their first year they ran mainly grazing ewes on the property. Brent did, however, buy some ewe lambs from two sources of high performance genetics. This allowed him to compare their lambing performances. He found the Cameron’s cull twin and triplet ewe lambs docked 15% more lambs as hoggets, so he has bought these ever since and said it has been the quickest way of getting the genetics he wanted.

“Good triplet results allow us to do our capital development out of cashflow.”

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Within their own flock, dry ewes and hoggets are culled. Ewes that scan singles and ewe hoggets that don’t rear a lamb go into the B flock. Brent now tracks all hoggets that have scanned multiples to identify those consistently rearing multiples. Of the 389 out of 1100 hoggets that scanned multiples two years ago only 11 have been scanned with singles as two tooths. Of the 3400-3600 ewes wintered, 600 are in the B flock and are mated on about April 25 to Willie Philips’ Dorset Down rams. The balance of the ewes go to Cameron Romney rams on about the same date for three cycles. Most of the ewes are in lamb after 20 days. Brent regards the mating period as most important. The ewes are split into four groups, each having a four-day rotation. Ten days before and ten days after the rams go out, mobs are shifted daily. “Shifting them seems to stimulate their appetite and also mixes them up with the rams.” Ewe hoggets (1100) with an average weight of 42-44kg are mated to Cameron low birthweight Growbulk rams on May 1 for 35-40 days. Normally 900 get in-lamb, scan 138% and dock 92%. Brent’s goal is to get 1100 hoggets in lamb from 1300 put to the ram. To challenge the hoggets at lambing time, Brent lambs them on the highest and most exposed country. Normal docking numbers are 6300-7000 and Brent’s aim is to kill about 3000 of these off mum at about 17kg in early January, with about 4000 gone by the end of February and the rest by the end of March. All single ewe lambs are killed with quite a few being killed off hoggets in early January.


November 2020

Above: Triplet-bearing ewes. Top right: Angus herd sire. Above right: Brent and loyal friend.

Focus on sire selection Last year, Brent and Carlene bought their own herd of Angus cows from the pick of those grazing on the farm, supplemented by 35 cull stud yearling Cameron heifers. The first crop of weaners were sold because of the drought but in future the heifers will probably be kept. Three bulls Brent bought from Camerons last year averaged $12,000. He puts a lot of time into sire selection, focusing mostly on maternal traits that will deliver a live calf, like fertility, calving ease and scrotal size. The bull must have good intramuscular fat and be from a cow with high milk estimated breeding value (EBV) good longevity, and his mature weight EBV must be as close to his 400day weight EBV as possible. Bulls go out in mid-January for 60 days


November 2020

– the late October calving date allows wintering enough stock to control the spring flush. “Late calving’s like carrying dry cows through the winter.” The first mating of their MA cows produced a 4% dry rate. However, last year as a result of the drought this rose to 10%. Brent is aiming for a longterm calving percentage based on cows wintered of 93-95%. Cows are set stocked among the ewes during the winter and the ewes and lambs during calving. Some of the lighter cows are calved on better feed while the heifers are calved on a paddock shut up after ewes have lambed on it. Few, if any, calving problems are encountered with the R2 heifers, which are mated to a low

birthweight EBV bull. Brent admits he should have weaned the heifers two weeks earlier this year but didn’t because no weaning feed was available. The heifers suffered a significant loss of bodyweight, hence they are currently lighter than they should be. In spite of the soils being predominantly limestone Brent is an avid user of lime, claiming it is the secret to pasture palatability. Soil pH is 5.8-6.0 with Olsen Ps 18-30. Annual fertiliser application is 300-350kg sulphur-super, and no nitrogen. Brent and Carlene do most of the work on Bywell, with some help from friends. Casual labour is used during the busy part of the year between Labour Weekend and the end of February.



Tissue sampling packs prove a gamechanger for Angus breeders Susan and Roger Hayward, owners of Twin Oaks Angus Station in Te

The testing provides reliable parent verification and avoids mix-

Akau are proud Angus Pure breeders. They moved their 300 Angus

ups and interbreeding. This has allowed the Hayward’s to find

cows from Canterbury to Waikato in 2016 and prior to the move

“accurate and true breeders”. Once calving is complete Susan sends

in 2012 they completed a verification sire parentage trial over the

all samples off to be HD50K tested. The samples remain in viable

entire bull drop. The results revealed 6% were wrong ...”which we

condition for 12 months. The HD50k is used to read the genomic

were horrified with.” Susan explains. Although it was much less

makeup and that information is then fed into the EBV’s (estimated

than the industry average of 10-15%, it was still a huge surprise

breeding value) giving better reliability and accuracy. “Before we

and certainly something both Susan and Roger agreed needed to

used genomes it was a 50% calibration. 50% was from Mum, 50%

be improved. This emphasised the importance and value of tissue

from Dad. But we all know that’s not exactly how it works. We can

sampling to their Angus stud farm operation and kick started their

now have a complete breakdown of their traits which they have

journey with Allflex Tissue Sampling Units (TSUs).

inherited from previous generations as well.”

Four years later they have just finished calving 400 cows, all calves

The Haywards believe TSUs are a clean, simple, accurate process

of which were sampled within 24 hours of being born. During

and certainly a massive improvement on other sampling methods

calving they tag, weigh and take a tissue sample of each calf. “The

such as pulling hairs. They value their relationship with the Allflex

blister packs which Allflex introduced were a game changer” notes

team and say they are very approachable and always available to

Susan. They contain the visual tag, EID button and TSU all matched

answer any questions. “We now look towards the future and would

and bundled together on a plastic tray. There’s no need to manually

like to increase the amount of bulls we sell each year and increase

label the TSU sample, reducing the chances of human mislabeling

our consistency of breeding high value quality animals across the

error. “Tagging, weighing and sampling each calf can be a stressful


and time-consuming task, but having the TSU bundled together means you no longer worry that there’s going to be mistakes” she explains, “we had 2 cows who had swapped calves and we didn’t

know until the results came back.”

Tagging, weighing and sampling each calf can be a stressful and time-consuming task, but having the TSU bundled together means you no longer worry that there’s going to be mistakes”



November 2020


The sheep and beef sector is already at least 5% smaller than it was in 2017.

Face-to-face with Wellington BY: TREVOR COOK


n September I visited Wellington as part of a Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) group, that being one of the many in a programme that I dared to question earlier in the year. It was the scattergun approach that I questioned, not that value was not being gained. In this case a lot of value was gained by getting face-to-face with government representatives, scientists and other industry players. The government people were from MPI and tried to present themselves as acting totally in the interest of farmers. Like, we are your mates. Not a sentiment widely held by farmers and one not enhanced by that meeting. That is not to say that they are not valued partners in managing the industry, but too many things have not gone well on their part to feel too cosy. They were particularly proud of their part in softening the freshwater rules. A very vigorous discussion about regenerative farming left me perplexed as to why this concept has got such big legs so quickly when there is no science at all


November 2020

that shows its value in our environment. We have many examples of products and ideas from overseas coming here with the expectation that they will deliver here in the same way that they did where they came from. But they don’t. This farming concept is very much one of those. When I looked at the objectives, I could see that the majority of our farms are meeting those objectives, despite them having, by implication, a pejorative description of degenerative farming. In this same flurry of presentations was one bringing the group up to date with Landcorp. The focus was on what they are doing as well as what they are. While none of what I heard was new to me I was interested in the reaction of the farming members present. It was very ho-hum with a strong sentiment of disappointment that they were not doing more that had a direct benefit to farmers in general. The only direct way they do this is through their genetics programme. But the huge progress in farming systems, management systems, innovations in soil management and forage, for example, in the industry have

not come from Landcorp. Should we have the expectation they are industry leaders? I have always thought they struggle with what their role is and get largely consumed by having to keep a very large farming business going. In my attentive group there was no mention of the need to sell it up. The farming greenhouse gas game is managed by MPI. There is some of this which is hard to understand or even accept, but it is it having two different objectives which are operating at the same time which confuses me. The big objective is to have a 10% drop across the livestock industries of methane by 2030 compared to levels in 2017. The sheep and beef sector is already at least 5% smaller than it was in 2017. By 2030 it will be at least 10% smaller. Objective achieved. Yet farmers will be required to change their systems, like lowering stocking rates, to lower their methane emissions by 10% from their 2022 levels. I posed this scenario to one of the MPI people in another forum and was left with a “I don’t know” answer. There is no question farming can be more efficient, can emit lower levels of GHG and remain productive. Developing tools will help. Clarifying the goals would help. As part of this group tour that included these Wellington presenters, we visited a couple of farms doing great stuff. What impressed me was not so much what they were doing but how they got to where they were. The bits that stood out for me in that process was planning and detail. Minimising exposure to what they cannot control. Of course the energy being applied, the lack of risk aversion, the excitement in what they are doing were all there. It once again showed that progression in farming, as for the progression of mankind, is an outcome of individuals going way beyond the norm to get to a new place. We all then follow. Coming out of the winter on my small farm has shown the benefit of a 75-day rotation on 48-hour shifts. Great pastures ahead, averaged 1.1kg/day liveweight gain and ending at 950kg LW/ha demonstrated how I had regenerated the energy in my soils to support the pastures to set up an awesome spring. Wow, what a great concept.



Controlling internal parasites BY: BEN ALLOTT


f you farm sheep on any kind of productive scale you will be well-aware of the need to be able to effectively control internal parasites. A significant factor in our ability to reduce parasite challenge is the high prevalence of internal parasites that have become resistant to the chemicals we have relied on to control them (drench resistance). In previous articles I have highlighted how farm system factors, stocking policies, and grazing management practices make some farms heavily reliant on chemicals to control parasites, with a consequence of this high chemical use being an increase in the rate that drench resistance develops. Combating the problem of drench

resistance requires a multi-pronged approach that should involve discussion and farm policy development around sheep genetics (resistance/resilience), sustainable sheep:cattle ratios, appropriate young stock numbers, forage selection to reduce larval challenge, refugia management, and appropriate chemical use. To remain productive into the future, farms that have already developed highly resistant parasites to multiple chemicals will need to undertake far more aggressive and disruptive changes than farms that have very little current drench resistance. Developing an appropriate strategy is reliant on a robust understanding of the current drench resistance profile of the parasites on your farm. The current industry standard test is the Faecal Egg Count Reduction Test (FECRT).

Developing an appropriate strategy is reliant on a robust understanding of the current drench resistance profile of the parasites on your farm.

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November 2020

Combating the problem of drench resistance requires a multi-pronged approach.

This test involves: • Taking a pre-drench faecal sample for a faecal egg count (FEC) and then culturing (hatching) these eggs to assess what species of parasites are present • Drenching groups of lambs with accurate doses of different drench families • 14 days later taking post-drench samples for FEC and larval culture From the results collected, the efficacy of each tested drench can be calculated for each species of parasite present.

have enough barbers pole in the sample to get an accurate test for a critical parasite in this district.


Lamb age - The FECRT must be run on lambs, it will not work in ewes. In my experience it can be a struggle to reliably get egg counts high enough in lambs older than nine months.

Timing - The strongylid parasites we are most commonly talking about are; Nematodirus, Teladorsagia (brown stomach worm), Trichostrongylus (black scour worm), Haemonchus (barbers pole), and Cooperia. You want to run the FECRT during the time of year when the critical production limiting parasites relevant to your farm are going to be present in the samples. The timing of when to test will vary across the country. In North Canterbury (where we see almost no barbers pole) I have focused on getting tests completed early in the season before summer dry conditions limit my ability to get egg counts to rise in lambs. If I used this timing in the Waikato I may not


November 2020

Starting egg counts - The pre-drench samples need enough eggs in them to calculate an accurate reduction percentage. For my North Canterbury tests I need to plan very early and mark a group of lambs to leave completely un-drenched from birth to ensure enough eggs are present early in the summer.

Number of lambs - I use 15 lambs per drench group and typically run 5 drench groups in my standard FECRT = 75 lambs. You need to plan alongside your advisor well in advance of your FECRT how many drenches you need for the test to get a robust understanding of your farms current drench resistance status. Pre-test management of lambs - In my rush against the dry I want to see FECRT lambs pushed hard, on low covers, grazing behind other groups of lambs. If my 75-100 drench test lambs have it easy,

on good feed we never get egg counts high enough to start. Pre-test monitoring - We usually do a sample FEC a couple of times prior to the test to check we are on track and have sufficient eggs in the sample before we pull the trigger. Equipment - Your vet will typically arrange all the drench to use for the tests and bring with them the equipment to mark lambs into groups, and to collect faecal samples. It is important that you have arranged for a working set of scales to weigh each lamb prior to their dose of drench. The FECRT is going to be relied on for a number of critical decisions. You need to make sure it is accurate, that the results are truly representative of the parasites on your farm, and that the timing of the test ensures that critical parasites are present in the test sample. This takes planning, and it takes an experienced adviser to ensure all the boxes are ticked prior to the test starting. I strongly advise you contact your vet well before weaning to get the plan for your FECRT sorted.

• Ben Allott is a North Canterbury veterinarian.



Some of the Saunders R2 hinds. Their goal is to breed a consistent line of 130-140kg hinds that wean a 70kg fawn.

Post-Covid challenge BY: LYNDA GRAY


epressed weaner prices and a shortage of slaughter space was a double whammy that hit hard Southland deer farmers Jesse and Tracey Saunders. The Covid-induced market disruptors struck at the worst possible time for the couple who were in the midst of trying to negotiate a sale price for their 400 store weaners, as well as get processing space for 100 cull hinds. Usually about 400 weaners are sold for


finishing. However, only 157 went this year at a price about 50 to 60% down on last year. “We had offers that we didn’t accept. We put a lot of work into getting them to where they are and decided we’ll take the risk and finish them ourselves,” Tracey says. The unsold weaners are grazing in a lease arrangement on Jesse’s parents farm with the goal of having them to finished weights before Christmas. Some will be wintered inside in a newly adapted shed on Jesse and Tracey’s farm. Despite the rocky autumn the Saunders

are optimistic about their future with deer. “We’ll stick with our five year plan. Hopefully, we’ve hit rock bottom with prices, and they’ll pick up again,” Jesse says. The plan is geared for the breeding and feeding of a dual purpose venison and velvet herd, in which most of the progeny is finished to prime weight. The Saunders are using technology including Deer select, a Gallagher TW-5 Weigh Scale and Reader, and Animal Performance software (APS) to help achieve their deer farming goals. The Gallagher system, bought two years ago, is used to record all deer information


November 2020

such as liveweight, velvet weight, eye muscle scanning, animal health treatments and anything special or notable about an individual animal. The recorded data is sent on to Look West, an animal data specialist company, who produces for the Saunders customised reports. As yet they have limited data on which to base selection decisions, but already the information has highlighted some interesting trends. “We’re finding that the biggest animal isn’t always the best in terms of growth efficiency.” That finding was further validated by the eye muscle scanning of 70 replacements replacement hinds last year. “We were keen to see where our hinds were sitting but it was hard to compare because not a lot of other commercial farmers are scanning for eye muscle, but what we found out was that the heaviest didn’t necessarily have the highest eye muscle to weight ratio.” Genetic-based selection and complementary weighing, monitoring, and scanning technology will continue to play a big part in their deer farming system. Although in the early stages of data gathering, they are looking forward to drawing on the information in future years to guide selection and buying decisions. The Saunders bought their first deer in 2010, before they had the land to run them on. The first 200 hinds followed by another 250 were leased to Jesse’s parents Trevor and Fiona who at the time were farming at South Hillend in Central Southland. In 2012 the couple along with Trevor and Fiona bought the Tuatapere farm and farmed in partnership. Jesse and Tracey took over ownership in 2015. The farm was fully developed but there’s been a lot of time and money spent on improving fences, developing new laneways, and fencing off environmentally vulnerable areas. The rolling and steep farm is ideal deer country with lots of natural shelter and plenty of summer growth for hinds and fawns. They’ve maximized pasture production on the limited area of flatter country with Italian ryegrass and clover which yields two cuts of balage as well as winter grazing. “Dad has been very helpful. He’s helped with a lot of the fencing and has a lot of experience of working with deer.”


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Top: Jesse and Tracey Saunders. Above: The doors and walls are clad with 9mm and 13mm recycled PVC sheets.

The wet winters on steep country are challenging and the Saunders keep management and feeding over this time as simple as possible. The hinds get kale and supplements of hay and balage.

MAKEOVER The Saunders are pleased with their $30,000 deer shed alterations. The starting point was a large unused space in the existing deer shed. Jesse had his own ideas on the design of the space but also took on several useful tips and suggestions from members of the Southland Elk and Wapiti Advance Party he belongs to. “The overall idea was to design a shed where it was easy to get deer in and out off, as well as separate ourselves easily from the deer if need be.” Continues

FARM FACTS: • Jesse and Tracey Saunders, children Ryan (11) and Sienna (9) • Happy Valley, Tuatapere, Western Southland • 243ha includes 182ha of deer fencing. • Deer breeding and finishing plus heifer wintering and beef finishing. Stock wintered: • 650 MA Wapiti hinds • 100 R2 replacement hinds • 50 MA sire and velvet stags • 20 R1 beef steers • 70 R1 heifers

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Jesse cut costs by doing a lot of the steel construction work and building all of the doors. Special features include gates that can easily be adjusted to swing from each side, depending on which direction the deer are being moved. Another feature is the steel mesh top third of gates giving the deer clear vision of who’s coming and going to reduce the likelihood of them being spooked. There’s also a side entry gate leading to the scales which is easier to move deer into than from a gate directly at the back of the race.


Taking NZ venison to China

OFF-FARM INCOME Jesse is a qualified automotive mechanic. He owns and operates Saunders Automotive in Winton as well as the farm. It’s a juggle at times but good time management and supportive staff at his workshop business make it possible. Tracey, a hairdresser, was raised on a sheep and beef farm at Browns near Winton, and got interested in deer when she met Jesse. She’s taken charge of the TW-5 in the deer yards, and the adminrelated recording work. She has enjoyed learning about and using Deer Select to guide sire stag selection. “The genetics side of things is exciting for us and something Jesse and I work on together.” They’re now confident at interpreting breed value information and spend time studying catalogue information before sales. They pay particular attention to weight at 12 months (W12 BV); eye muscle area (EMAc BV); and the Terminal Index. “We go to sales with a plan and know how much we’re prepared to pay. We’re also prepared to miss out on a stag if we think that the price doesn’t reflect the true value of the animal.” They’re particularly pleased with their 2020 purchase, ‘Legend’ from Tikana Wapiti. “He’s highly ranked and we’re looking forward to seeing his progeny.” The planning is a big leap forward from their first sire stag purchases four years ago. “We judged what we bought totally on how they looked. We didn’t understand Deer Select, but we started asking questions,” Tracey said. They are grateful to mentors such as Dave Lawrence, Murray Hagen and the late Jim Cameron who have taken an interest and offered practical suggestions and help.


Venison dishes presented to the Shanghai event.



ur very first delivery of Mountain River Venison in China was on October 11, 2015. It was to a fivestar hotel on the Bund,

in Shanghai. I remember very clearly the excitement of receiving this order of boneless venison leg, and it had the number 3 in the unit/ kg column. With deer legs being a lot bigger than 3kgs, I rocked up to the hotel with one box (three legs) around 20kgs of meat. At the start it was clear we had no idea what we were doing. By the surprise on the faces of the receiving department, they did not often see a foreigner deliver products to their hotel. I quickly got my first of many “no”, “go away” and “you can’t do that” by a receiving department, and this attitude has continued to this day. After a couple of phone calls, some meetings and plenty of discussions, we managed to get the hotel to take the whole box. I had to return in the

afternoon with the correct paperwork. Doing is the best way to understand the Chinese market. From that day until now, we continue to learn and understand the market through actions. More than five years later we are still here and selling New Zealand venison. It is challenging because it is still a new product for most Chinese consumers. What Chinese people think they know or have heard of venison is, it’s a “heating meat” that it gives people bleeding noses. It’s a tough and smelly meat and it is only good in winter dishes. There are hundreds of other reasons why Chinese people will not eat it. Forever the optimist, I think this does not apply to high-quality farm-raised NZ venison. In most cases if Chinese consumers try some NZ venison 99% of the time they actually like it. It is a meat that can be used in many different cooking styles and it is surprising the amount of NZ venison Tartar and Carpaccio, both raw meat dishes, are sold in China. Some of the biggest limiting factors in growth of sales of NZ venison in China


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Chef Graham Brown presents a range of venison dishes at an event at a five-star Shanghai hotel.

is often the chefs’ imagination or the restaurant management being negative to the product sale. This is a massive challenge and one we continue to work on. We have been very fortunate over a number of years with good support from Mountain River venison and the NZ deer industry to host Chef Graham Brown in China. He is a NZ deer industry chef who travels the world promoting NZ venison. His time in the Chinese market has given us the ability to open many new doors and create interest in NZ venison. We started our earlier trips of presenting NZ venison dishes in less-than-ideal conditions in Inner Mongolia. From those humble beginnings, to Chef Graham’s most recent trip in 2019, he impressed a large group of high-power hotel executives in downtown Shanghai. He has been extremely helpful in creating demand for venison because of his knowledge, unique skill set and ability to deliver amazing venison eating experiences. This has often been under some very challenging conditions in Chinese kitchens. One trip to Beijing in 2016 we had a media event to launch a Mountain River


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venison promotion within a high profile five star hotel steak house. As in most situations in China, nothing really goes to plan and a couple of hours before this event the hotel management started to panic. They were worried the invited media and KOLs (key opinion leader/online influencer) might not like eating meat. So they decided to add some seafood to the menu event. That did not go over too well just before the event. Chef Graham presented five amazing cocktail dishes - Tartar, Vietnamese Roll, Slider, Yakitori and Dumplings. All produced from a leg of venison! Everyone who attended was blown away with the taste, flavours and entire eating experience. No one touched the seafood! We find this all over China; if our Mountain River venison is cooked and presented correctly, Chinese people really enjoy the eating experience. Getting Chinese chefs to do this is another challenge. This is no different to markets in other parts of the world. The team at Mountain River led by John Sadler have been very supportive and we

are very grateful and proud to deliver this product around China. The advantage of working with a small and highly focused processor is that we are constantly working together to adjust the cuts best to fit the market. We are making these adjustments from direct market feedback and one example is venison shanks. We have gone through nine different cut/packaging changes over the past few years. We now have settled on a range of cuts that work on the production side and within the market. But this could potentially change in the future if the market requirements move again. Also over the past five years we have not had a major product quality issue, which is a clear testament to the effort farmer suppliers and Mountain River go to supply a quality product. With Covid-19 the food service market has moved again, which makes things interesting. The most important thing is that currently there are no social distancing rules for restaurants and Chinese consumers are still enjoying eating out. The opportunity and challenge is to get them eating more NZ venison.



Hemp growers capture the full price A Southland farming couple has turned their hemp crop into high-value products as well as making it a family affair. Terry Brosnahan investigates. Photos Chris Sullivan.


The final product. A 250ml bottle of hemp oil sells for $22 and a container of 240 capsules, $42.


atisfaction of farm products going out the gate with their label on it is priceless to Balfour farmers Blair and Jody Drysdale. It is only the second year of growing hemp for seed, the first for processing it, yet the Drysdales have achieved a lot. Blair (42) and Jody (40) have overcome bureaucracy and processing issues to sell their home-grown hemp seed. They are pressing the seed into oil to be bottled and made into capsules which they sell through their website. They have had no problems selling their oil and capsules. On the first day their website went online they had 25 orders. Under Covid-19 lockdown sales soared and by August the bottled oil sold out. The capsule supply is running low. With selling through a website there is no middleman. “Just the kids,” Blair says. Carly (12), Fletcher (10) and Leah (8) help out at the A&P Shows. Blair and Jody grew the crop with the intention they would process and sell it. Blair had always wanted to do a paddock-to-plate product so he could have the connection with the consumer. “It was always an itch he wanted to scratch,” Jody says. They had investigated setting up a butchery in Queenstown 15 years ago, but decided it wasn’t a runner. Hemp had been considered after the change in the regulations, but hadn’t gone anywhere until a chance conversation. One day Blair was talking to an agronomist who told him of a farmer growing hemp in West Otago, Athol Lawlor. Blair investigated it further and away they went. A major advantage for the Drysdales was they had all the machinery from their cropping business to grow and harvest it. No specialised equipment was needed until it had to be dried. They already had a batch drier but needed a drying trailer in the paddock. Blair converted


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Top: A paddock of hemp on the Drysdales’ Balfour farm. Right: Blair and Jody Drysdale are growing, processing and selling their hemp products directly to consumers via the internet. Above left: Leah, Fletcher and Carly Drysdale after the hemp was harvested in April last year.

a Bedford truck into a drying trailer with a perforated floor and a fan on the front driven by a petrol motor. They planted their first crop in December 2018 and harvested it in early April. It was easy to run through their CaseIH Axial Flow even though they were warned it would damage the combine. Blair didn’t even break a knife section. About 1 tonne/ ha of hemp seed was harvested. The 2019-2020 crop was hit by hail, frost and a lack of sunshine,and excessive rain. Hemp doesn’t like wet feet. Blair says the yield was absolutely abysmal and didn’t give a figure, but last year it was 1t/ha. It costs $1100/ha to grow it, and the gross margin is $2900-$4800, depending on the yield. The hemp goes in about late Novemberearly December though they are pulling the hemp sowing date forward to increase yield. The harvest date will still be the first week in April. As the days shorten, hemp starts to go reproductive so planting too


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early can make it grow taller. “We don’t want great lengths of that tough fibre going through the combine,” Blair says. Last year they used a tyne air seeder direct drill but it caused too much soil disturbance and weeds to grow. “We are doing it all without spraying, it is a chemical free crop.” The crop is sown into a stale seedbed and doesn’t require spraying as it has natural defences against pests. This year they will try a disc drill with minimal soil disturbance to get it off to a good start. Five days after it is sown the hemp is about 25mm high. The crop is usually harvested after 120 days, this year it was 125 days. The New Zealand average is 900kg-1.2t/ha. Blair would be happy if they harvested 1.2t/ha. Tonnage doesn’t worry them too much as they capture more value by processing and marketing it themselves. “But we still want the paddock to pay

for itself,” Blair says. As soon as the sparrows start getting into the crop, it’s time to harvest. They have to beat the birds and the seed has to be dried quickly. “If you don’t dry it within three hours it will turn to compost.” Once it starts to compost it ruins the oil quality. So can too much heat. “It can go from a $5000/t commodity crop to compost.” Hemp is harvested at 28% moisture and why the drying trailer needs to be in the field. The combine bin never fills up and is constantly emptied into the trailer with Jody on the shovel making sure it is spread evenly. Then it goes back to the shed to be dried. Dried seed is sieved by hand to take out chaff and weed seed then stored in 500kg bags until needed. It will go into 40kg bags for processing. Once it is between 8-9% moisture, rodent Continues



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November 2020

proof and kept out of sunlight it has a shelf life of at least two years. But it will never be stored that long. This year they imported an oil press from Germany which arrived during lockdown in May. There are no dealers in NZ so they went through an agent in Australia to import it. There was no-one to install it or to ask questions about. Blair got it working through trial and error, changing setting after setting. Once pressed, the oil is stored in drums and the oxygen is purged by food grade nitrogen gas to make sure it doesn’t go rancid. The first crop was toll processed and initially they weren’t going to make capsules, just oil. It is easier to take hemp as a capsule than as an oil. The Drysdales didn’t want to outlay any more money but found a company via Google to make the capsules.

BUREAUCRATS HAMPER PROCESS Processing their own oil has given greater control over timing, quality and the percentage which can be extracted. The hardest part of the hemp process was dealing with bureaucrats. Jody says the licence application process was “extremely frustrating” and took seven months to obtain. They couldn’t buy the seed without a licence. Jody says though it is not organic, customers like the fact no chemicals have been sprayed on the crop. They also like the story about a family business. She puts out a regular newsletter and includes the children in it. The Drysdales make no claims on the label. They believe hemp is good for general well-being but a cure for nothing. “It is also a very good salad oil”, Blair says. Last season four hectares were grown but there will be 10ha this year. Blair and Jody started farming in their own right in 2008, running 1500 ewes, growing cereals, cattle, rearing calves, heifer and cow grazing. They had bought half of the 320ha farm and until two years ago they leased the other half from Blair’s parents Ken and Fiona. Blair and Jody were also first time parents. They later became worried about too many enterprises on the farm and diversity becoming “di-worsity” for the farming business. “If you try to do too many things you


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Top: The Drysdales lease 30ha to a tulip bulb grower. Above: Jody and Blair Drysdale with the German-made press they bought which gives greater control over the processing of the hemp into oil.

lose your scale,” Jody says. So after a review , they got rid of the cow grazing, beef cattle, calf rearing and most of the breeding sheep. Now they crop 160-180ha and lease 30ha to a tulip bulb grower. The soil and climate makes it ideal for growing tulips. The rest of the farm is in pasture for grazing hoggets or finishing store lambs and the remaining 150 ewes which includes 75 Wiltshires. The Drysdales would eventually like to increase the Wiltshire flock to about 400. “Every cropping farmer needs sheep to keep lanes and fence lines tidy,” Blair says. He needs them to keep the grass down around the farm especially with fence lines. He doesn’t want to start spraying and create perfect weed havens. The store lambs and hogget grazing give good winter cashflow for a cropping farmer. In the past two years they have finished 1600 store lambs but this winter only 150. Instead they grazed 1000 hoggets. A typical rotation on the farm is winter

wheat to oil seed rape to winter wheat then two years winter barley followed by greenfeed rape for store lambs or hoggets then back to spring barley. A grass phase didn’t pay its way. Harvest was tough this year as Blair was on his own due to Covid-19 and the weather was rubbish. It is a flat, square-shaped farm with two-thirds Crookson silt loam soil, the rest is clay loam. The long-term rainfall is 785mm. Half of the farm can be irrigated thanks to irrigation put in for the tulips. So the tulip company’s travelling irrigators could be used for hemp too. July is normally the driest month, January the wettest. They tried growing 2ha of sunflowers this year but it was hit by disease and flooding then the birds beat the combine to it. It ended up a sacrifice crop and helped save the hemp from the birds. Blair said in a drier year and with a larger paddock to dilute the bird damage, sunflowers would be worth growing again.



Alternative pollinators BY: VICTORIA O'SULLIVAN



hen we think of crop pollination we automatically think of honey bees and hives. But what role do other insects that visit flowers play in pollinating clovers, brassicas and seed crops? Research has shown they could, in fact, be providing pollination for free. Over the past several years, the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) has been working with Dr Brad Howlett and Dr Melanie Davidson at Plant and Food Research to find out how effective some of the other common crop visitors are as pollinators, and to see whether they can be supported by establishing biodiversity plantings. FAR environment research manager Abie Horrocks says brought-on bees are like irrigation – they have an important role to play but they come at a cost. Alternative pollinators, however, are like rain – they come for free. On top of this some insects can provide further benefits, attacking pest insects such as aphids and caterpillars. Some insects will pollinate when honey bees aren’t active such as on cool, cloudy


days. Others can help pollinate the crop in the situation where honey bees vacate for a preferred crop over the fence. For example, many flies love carrot flowers but they are not a preferred flower for honey bees. The study found New Zealand’s native bees and bumblebees pollinated crop flowers just as efficiently as honey bees. Even more surprising was the finding that a range of fly species were providing crop pollination. Fly species included hoverflies, whose larvae also attack aphids and other soft-bodied insects; bristle flies, which also attack insects such as moth caterpillars; drone flies, march flies, blow flies and soldier flies. “When it comes to your insectpollinated crops, the more of these insects you see the better, as they will be assisting with pollination,” Abie says.

PLANTING TO SUPPORT BENEFICIAL INSECTS Abie says biodiversity plantings can help provide nectar at the right time for the alternative pollinators. While recent studies focused on native plantings, nonnatives can provide good functionality too. It’s important to get the plant mix right in order to help support the full diversity

of key pollinators but not encourage pest species. In 2013, native plantings containing about 30 species were established on three Canterbury arable farms to test whether they supported beneficial insects.

‘When it comes to your insect-pollinated crops, the more of these insects you see the better, as they will be assisting with pollination.’ Five years later monitoring showed the plantings were very good for supporting diverse wild pollinators and insect pest predators, but not flower-visiting insect pests. Plant and Food Research mapped the relationship between plants within native plantings and their support of a diverse range of crop pollinating and beneficial insects (Figure 1). The complex network of insects supported by native plants, and their interaction across crops, showed how plantings can generate on-farm insect diversity that will benefit crops.

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Biodiversity plantings can be designed to fit anywhere on your farm. (Photo: Plant & Food Research).

Native plantings

IPM AND BENEFICIAL INSECT POPULATIONS A scientific paper looking at parasitic wasps found the number of aphids they can parasitise was hundreds more if they had fed on nectar as opposed to water. “Having a nectar source available is really important and it’s just thinking about how to get that into the rotation in a sensible way,” Abie says. It’s important that all the components of IPM are considered as an entire system across the biological, cultural and chemical controls. “You can do everything by the book in terms of providing that nectar source, but if you are still going in with a routine broad spectrum insecticide then that’s going to unravel all the other good work that’s being done.” Abie believes farming in the future will likely require the conscious demonstration of informed decisions around inputs such as insecticides, pesticides or fertilisers and that IPM can help with this transition. “It makes good sense for those farmers who are wanting to be intentional about what they are using and when, and it makes good sense if these beneficials are doing the work for free.


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Brassica rapa (Pak Choi)

Raphanus sativus (Radish)

Trifolium repens (White Clover)

Daucus carota (Carrot)

Allium cepa (Onion)

Figure 1. Native plantings that contain a range of flowering species support many beneficial insects that pollinate crops and eat pest insects such as aphids and caterpillars. Honey bees (gold lines) are relied on by many growers to pollinate many crops. They are supported by flowering native plants in native plantings and visit the five crops shown. But native plantings support a whole range of other flies, bees and beetles that pollinate and feed on pests within these crops. In contrast for species regarded as pests, a single adult cabbage white butterfly (insect 21) and one lesser bulb fly adult (insect 19) were seen visiting native plant flowers (source: Brad Howlett, Plant & Food Research).



Good structure was vital to “hold and house” soil biology which itself needed a healthy balance of bacteria and fungi.

Roadshow plays to thousands BY: ANDREW SWALLOW


ike it or loathe it, the term regenerative agriculture has gained quite a following in the past couple of years. Two advocates of its principles, Jono Frew and Peter Barrett, completed a 27-venue tour of New Zealand travelling from Hokianga to Invercargill in a couple of campervans this winter, relaying their experiences and views to audiences of up to 250 people. They say they did the tour to “help farmers learn that there is a mindset that empowers them to save money and be more profitable. It involves becoming more aware of the implications of our actions on soil microbiology.” Building soil health is at the heart of what they believe and more active life in soil makes farms more resilient. Frew kicked off each seminar relaying how he’d come to be a regenerative agriculture coach following a conventional farming then agchem specialist career, before outlining what he now sees as serious shortcomings in many common farming practices. Soil tests using aggregated samples


from the top 7.5 or 15cm were first in his sights. Those sample depths might be appropriate for ryegrass and white clover, but the diverse pasture and crop mixes used in regenerative systems draw nutrients across a much wider profile. Also, tests such as Olsen P only provide a snapshot of phosphate already in plant available, soluble form, not the reserves which healthy plant roots and associated mycorrhizal fungi might access, he said. That accounts for why he and farmers such as Peter Barrett see pastures and crops perform well without fertiliser even on soils with nutrient test results well below the “optimum” levels indicated on standard reports. Monitoring plant health through herbage analysis, and not just for the macronutrients N, P, K and S, is his preferred approach. “We need to start to think beyond just macro nutrients.” Soil cation exchange capacity (CEC) was useful because it showed how much nutrient a soil could hold, and to determine the ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium. For example, a soil with a CEC of 15 ideally the ratio should about 7 to 1 he said.

Peter Barrett of Linnburn Station speaking in Timaru this winter.

“Too much magnesium and you end up with concrete slabs. Too much calcium and the soil’s too fluffy.” Carbon or organic matter content of the soil was also a key metric because every 1% increase in carbon allowed a soil to hold another 145,000 to 160,000 litres of water*, and it improved structure. Good structure was vital to “hold and house” soil biology which itself needed a healthy balance of bacteria and fungi, ideally in the order of one to one, he said. If bacteria dominated, soil would be too fine and compacted. Bacterial dominance was often a symptom of nitrogen fertiliser use and soil would smell bad as a result. “If you apply nitrogen to the soil, the bacteria go nuts.” However, some bacteria, including those in root nodules of leguminous plants, fix


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False science BY: DR DOUG EDMEADES


egenerative Agriculture is pseudo-science – false science. Its deception lies in using the language of science without the substance of science – evidence. Its very name is deceptive because ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ implies conventional agriculture farming is degenerative. It rides on a worldwide wave of negativity that asserts that we – humans - are destroying our planet. But stand back and look at the big picture. If conventional agriculture is degenerative how come agricultural production continues to increase. Google “Our World in Data”. Pick any crop and any country and the same picture emerges – agricultural production increases year on year. The evidence does not support the suggestion that our soils are degenerating. RA enthusiasts make a big deal of the benefits of RA on soil quality and health, with a major emphasis on soil biology, and suggest conventional agriculture is having a negative effect on soil quality/health? What does the evidence tell us?

New Zealand soil scientists got together over two decades ago and came up with a minimum set of soil tests which collectively describe soil quality. Seven tests were identified: three which measured the soil biological activity, two which measured soil chemistry, and two that measured soil physical quality. Target ranges were defined for each. These tests have been used in nationwide surveys (in 2014 and again in 2017) of across all land use sectors (agriculture, horticulture and forestry) in NZ and indicate, with some exceptions, that our NZ soils are in good heart especially in terms of soil biology! They also make some outrageous claims about fertiliser. They claim, contrary to the scientific evidence, that chemical fertilisers, especially superphosphate and urea, kill the soil biology, making the soil sterile. In any case, they argue soluble fertiliser are

nitrogen from air and convert it to plantavailable ammonia so they’re not all bad, hence the need for balance. Fungi give soil more structure, and feed off more complex carbon compounds than bacteria. In the case of mycorrhizal fungi, they act as “the internet of the soil”, allowing the roots of plants coated in them to reach nutrients from vast areas reaching nutrients kilometres away he said. However, not all plants benefitted from mycorrhizal fungal associations, including brassicas which was why monocultures of them were so dependent on fertiliser for high yield and got hammered by insects. Cultivations, herbicides, fungicides and some fertilisers all damaged mycorrhizal networks – “super and DAP burn these guys on contact; they absolutely nuke

them,” he noted – but whatever was done to destroy them, given the right soil conditions they’d always come back. Healthy mycorrhizal fungal populations were why growers such as Barrett were producing mixed forage stands yielding more than 10 tonnes drymatter (DM)/ ha with no fertiliser despite soil tests indicating some macronutrients were deficient, he added. Growing diverse mixes of plants helped build soil biology and structure because each plant species released a unique combination of root exudates so would favour different strains of fungi and bacteria. Similarly, the range of root structures across species, from deep, subsoil fracturing tap roots to more fibrous shallow roots, could enhance soil structure


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Dr Doug Edmeades.

not required because RA practices feed the soil biology and thus unlock otherwise unavailable nutrients, and especially P, from the soil reserves. Once again this is not supported by science. Sometimes science must be asserted. As Charles Darwin put it: sometimes to kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. • Dr Edmeades is an independent soil scientist and consultant.

and resilience of crops to drought. Frew said diverse stands of forage also boosted stock performance. “Cows ate less drymatter and yet their production increased: we don’t usually see that in March,” he said, showing a video clip of dairy cows grazing a 35-species mix near the Rangitata. The mix had been direct-drilled into a compacted, poorly producing grass paddock yet within six months it had increased soil organic matter by half a percentage point, as well as producing a spectacular above ground stand, he said. Species diversity also built resilience into the system, such that when conditions didn’t favour one species, there would be others that would benefit, and the feed Continues

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grown didn’t have a tight use-by window. “These crops stand there waiting for when you need them!” Short, high stock density grazing was the key to using such feeds and some loss to trampling was good because it helped spread cows’ weight, reducing soil compaction and raindrop or sunlight damage to soil surface structure and biology. Longer residuals also meant less interruption of growth. “In a perennial stand, you want them to just eat the top: eat a third, trample a third, and leave a third to still capture sunlight. When we leave a bit behind, we can just keep on growing,” Frew said.

‘Too much magnesium and you end up with concrete slabs. Too much calcium and the soil’s too fluffy.’ That continued growth was particularly important underground: remove too much above ground by grazing or cutting and roots not only stopped growing, but they stopped feeding the soil biota that was essential to gathering nutrients and supplying them to the plant, so the whole system suffered. Surface litter from trampling helped prevent run-off and aided infiltration of rain or irrigation, he added. Infiltration rate could be checked by banging a widebore pipe – drain-pipe or wider – into the soil then filling the top to a set depth, typically an inch, and timing how long it took to soak in. He said he’d seen an inch of water disappear in seconds on undamaged soils but still be there hours later on others in need of remediation. Traditionally, remediation meant coming

in with cultivators to remove compaction but direct-drilled deep tap-rooted plants and certain species of worms could do the same thing, enhancing soil structure and biology rather than bashing it to bits. Barrett, who has been direct-drilling mixes of dozens of species of forage plants to renovate grazing land at Linnburn Station, Central Otago, told the meeting that approach was succeeding where conventional had failed, and he could do three or four times the area for the same cost. “We can do 850 to 1000ha with what we used to spend on 250ha.” Sometimes it would take two seasons of mixed annual cover crops to get the soil biology going and crops pumping but it would get there and when it did, a diverse mix of annuals plus perennials was sown so the latter gradually took over to provide a long-term productive pasture of diverse grasses, lucerne, clovers and herbs. His mixes typically include 20 to 60 species, with at least one from each of five key plant types: grasses, legumes, brassicas, cereals, and chenopods. It had been a process of trial and error working out what worked best. “We’ve done 5000ha of this now and we have probably made more mistakes than anyone else in NZ whilst also having the most success!” However, in Maniototo’s often dry summers, such mixes meant he could now build a reserve of standing feed that would stay green long after surrounding grassland had gone grey, and could be used at any point from December through to the following winter. Since he started with such mixes in 2014, capital stock numbers have remained constant and trading stock has been introduced into the system to use the extra feed to be utilised.

BARRETT’S BACKGROUND Raised in Wellington, Peter Barrett’s the son of a dentist and took on the family owned property in 2012 having run campervan businesses here and in the United States. The station had been run by managers since 1986 when his grandfather died and, as he puts it, with sheep farming not printing cash during that time maintenance of assets had not been proactive and the “asset needed a lot of love.” Pastures needed to be renewed, fences repaired or replaced, houses tidied up. Initially he followed standard spray-cultivate-drill advice to establish crops and renew pastures but when a ryegrass and clover reseed failed and a fertiliser rep advised him just to do the same again, he thought there had to be a better way. In 2013 independent soil specialist Graham Shepherd came to Linnburn and taught the staff how they could assess all 200 paddocks on the station and Barrett analysed the results, grouping them into 10 areas. “I’m big on spread sheets and collecting data.” Earthworms were poor in numbers, which was “a little alarming”, so Barrett started searching the internet and sought the advice of US cover crop specialist Gabe Brown. “He said stop sending your money to town: don’t soil test, cultivate or use fertiliser; get extremely diverse seed mixes and put them in the ground!” And that was Barrett’s “if nothing else” advice to his audience: don’t get bogged down in the detail of soil food webs and carbon cycles; just break the monocrop, fertiliser-dependent system on a small area of the farm by sowing a diverse species mix and go from there. “You will learn as you go. “At Linnburn we have reduced our fertiliser spend hugely and we have more green drymatter than ever, and in places we never did, and we have more birds and worms. “We are far from perfect [and] we have a long way to go but we are now resilient. We do not need to keep introducing inputs to maintain production.”

Cattle amid a mixed stand of annual species on Linnburn Station.



November 2020


Crisis? What crisis?

Another soil scientist’s view on regenerative rhetoric. By Andrew Swallow.


armers experimenting with regenerative agriculture may find new systems and benefits, but beware associated sales pitches, unsubstantiated claims, and rhetoric rubbishing established practice that’s been proven by sound science, Lincoln University Professor of Biogeochemistry, Leo Condron says. “My problem with regenerative agriculture is it is being advanced by painting a picture of a crisis that doesn’t exist in my opinion,” he told Country-Wide having read the report on p72 of this issue from one of Jono Frew and Peter Barrett’s Regenerative Agriculture Roadshows. “It is being promoted as if there’s a massive systemic problem that we’ve got to fix, which I don’t agree with at all and it’s certainly not a crisis.” That said, Condron adds that it is widely acknowledged that there are ongoing and emerging issues associated with use and management of soil in New Zealand that do need to be addressed, including erosion of hill country, loss of high quality land to urban development, conservation and protection of intensively managed lowland


November 2020

soils, and reduction and control of nutrient transfer from land to water. Some practices promoted as regenerative are simply existing knowledge repackaged, such as use of minimum tillage to reduce loss of moisture, organic matter, and soil structure, he notes. The possible advantages of others, such as using highly diverse forage mixes, are unproven, while the claimed benefits of establishing and maintaining certain cation ratios have no sound scientific basis. Cation exchange capacity is the ability of soil to retain and release cations and is a useful measure of soil fertility, but the main driver for that, and many other soil properties and processes, is organic matter, not cation ratios, he says. Consequently, adequate soil organic matter is absolutely imperative for healthy, fertile soil, and many of the anecdotal benefits of regenerative agriculture relate to the adoption of practices designed to increase soil organic matter content. But increasing organic matter content of agricultural soil without drastically changing land-use is challenging, as is accurate measurement of changes in soil

organic matter content over time. With regard to soil biology, bacteria and fungi account for over 95% of soil organisms and their activities are governed by the supply of energy in the form of organic carbon from plant photosynthesis, which in turn is determined by the quantity and quality of organic matter inputs to soil.

Some practices promoted as regenerative are simply existing knowledge repackaged. There is no evidence that nitrogen fertilisers ‘make soil bacteria go nuts’, as Frew put it, and even if they did, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. It would simply be a consequence of more vigorous plant growth releasing more carbon into the soil in plant matter and root exudates, and probably via urine and dung too, resulting in a more abundant Continues

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soil biology, including bacteria. As for superphosphate ‘nuking’ soil biota, while there is some damage in the immediate vicinity of a fertiliser granule during dissolution, the scale of any effect needs to be taken into account. Applied at 100-200kg/ha, superphosphate granules contact a minute proportion of the 750 to 1000t/ha of topsoil there is in the top 7.5cm and any damage caused to bacteria, fungi or other soil organisms will be minor compared to benefits from subsequent enhanced plant growth. Research has shown that annual applications of up to 376kg/ha of superphosphate to a grazed pasture for over 60 years significantly enhanced soil biological activity, Condron says. Scale is also key to understanding the likely impact of adding specific bacteria or fungi to soil as so-called “bio-stimulants”. Given that a hectare of soil may contain up to 15 tonnes of organisms including more than 100,000 different species of bacteria and fungi, Condron says it is difficult to envisage that the application of small quantities of bacteria or fungi will have any effect on the biological cycling and availability of nutrients. In fact, extensive research has shown that the application of commercial preparations of “plant growth promoting” and “phosphate-solubilising” bacteria have no significant impact on plant growth under field conditions.

Research has shown that annual applications of up to 376kg/ha of superphosphate to a grazed pasture for over 60 years significantly enhanced soil biological activity. Mycorrhizal fungi do play an important role in plant nutrition but many species are already present in agricultural soils and while introducing new species may be beneficial for some novel plants, this is usually done via inoculation of seeds rather than by field application, he notes. Condron also questions whether humic acid or humate applications can make any difference to biological activity on a field scale. Humic substances, including humic acid and fulvic acid, make up over half the organic matter in soils naturally, hence


Worms in top soil.

a typical New Zealand topsoil of 7501000t/ha at 10% organic matter already contains up to 50t of humic substances per hectare. Accordingly, it is very difficult to understand how applying small quantities of humate or humic acid preparations can make any significant difference to properties and processes associated with naturally occurring humic substances, and that’s backed up by the limited field research reported to date, he adds. Limitations of soil tests is one area where Condron echoes Frew to some extent. Tests mainly reflect how soil chemical properties and processes influence nutrient solubility, which is appropriate for calcium, magnesium, and potassium where availability of the nutrient to plants is principally controlled by chemistry, he explains. However, more than 90% of the nitrogen and sulphur in soil is chemically bonded to carbon in organic matter (“organic nitrogen”, “organic sulphur”) and not immediately available to plants. Similarly, about 50% of total phosphorus is bonded to carbon (“organic phosphorus”). These nutrients are released or “mineralised” from organic matter by bacterial, fungal and plant enzymes cleaving the carbon-nutrient bonds, hence Olsen P tests and sulphate-S tests do not adequately reflect the role of soil biological processes in determining potential plant availability, though a soil test using an extended incubation period is available, at a price, to measure the potential for a soil to release nitrogen from organic matter. Condron notes that reducing or eliminating mineral fertilisers appears to be a common strategy in regenerative agriculture but continued nutrient input

is necessary in any sustainable agricultural system to replace nutrients removed in produce, he stresses. That said, improving nutrient use efficiency and tightening nutrient cycles in agricultural systems is an ongoing objective of vast amounts of research worldwide in order to minimise environmental impacts and conserve finite non-renewable resources, especially phosphate rock. “Overall utilisation of fertiliser nutrients in agriculture is very low. For example, only 10-30% of the phosphorus in fertiliser will be utilised by plants in the growing season following application.” Most of it accumulates in the soil as stable forms of mineral phosphate and organic phosphorus, so-called “legacy P”. Similarly there are accumulated reserves of organic nitrogen and sulphur in many soils. Research to access those reserves mainly focuses on using existing agricultural and novel plant species, plus their associated microorganisms (mycorrhizae etc), in various crop rotations and grassland systems, including intercropping, use of cover crops, and/or green manures. Hence it is possible that increasing the diversity of plants in grazed pasture systems, as the regenerative advocates suggest, may enhance mobilisation of legacy soil P and reduce maintenance phosphorus fertiliser requirements, he says. Whatever the drivers, scientifically sound, independent research into claims made by proponents of regenerative agriculture is desperately needed. “We need hard, empirical data on what are the upsides and downside of these approaches,” he concludes.


November 2020


Run behind a JCB Fastrac 4220, the 6m Sky EasyDrill rarely makes the tractor work hard even on the steep slopes of the Surrey hills.

Hard row to finding the perfect drill After four decades of direct-drilling, Surrey grower Roger Colebrook has finally found the ideal machine to handle his wide-ranging soil types and varied cropping regime. Nick Fone reports.


fter 40 years of direct drilling you’d think that you’d know all there is to know about no-till crop establishment. Far from it, according to Surrey grower Roger Colebrook who believes he’s still got plenty to learn about soil and crop management under an almost tillage-free regime. “It might sound obvious but direct drilling is all about the soil. The problem is that no two fields are the same and on our land we’ve got every possible soil type from red clays with flint to greensand and gravel. “That makes it pretty challenging to find the right tools for the job. After four decades I think we’re getting closer


November 2020

to finding the ideal combination of equipment – all centered around our new Sky EasyDrill.” The six-metre seeder arrived at Chaldon Court last spring and has since sowed 1000 hectares of cash, cover, and forage crops for the business’s livestock and arable enterprises. Its purchase was prompted by a number of factors led by a necessity for a much tighter drilling window. “With a loss of metaldehyde, and our target to reduce our use of insecticides and herbicides, we now need to get all our autumn cereals sown in a five or six day slot around the second week in October. With contract drilling that can amount to over 400ha,” says Roger.

“Although our 15-year-old Amazone Primera is beginning to show its age it’s not ready for full retirement yet. With it moving to a back-up role we can have two 6m drills running and comfortably cover the ground. “With its tine-type coulters and the Sky’s disc openers we’ve got the versatility to cover a range of conditions.” The direct-drilling approach has evolved at Chaldon Court since the mid 1970s when the Colebrook family farm comprised a small dairy herd and small arable acreage. Over time more ground was rented for cereal crops. A traditional, plough-based establishment regime with lots of labour-intensive, diesel-hungry Continues

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Left: Up front is a small-seed/granule applicator that can deliver seed to either of the two distribution heads. Below: “The biggest benefit in directdrilling comes in the time savings – we’ve turned a 3-month long marathon into a straightforward 5-6 day job.” – Roger Colebrook.

passes was required to break down the heavy clay furrows into manageable seedbeds. “I could see that the system we had in place didn’t have a future so I tried using our Massey 30 drill to go direct into stubbles, but it couldn’t get the seed into the ground consistently and our flints just destroyed tynes. “At the time a contractor with a Bettinson drill sowed all our kale and stubble turnips for the cows. With the stubbles burnt off with Gramoxone it worked well, so we decided to buy our own for the arable ground.”

SLASHED COSTS The purchase revolutionised crop establishment at Chaldon Court, slashing costs and boosting yields to a point where profit once more became a possibility. After years of fine tuning they found an approach that gave reliable establishment.

To deal with weed issues a pressure harrow and flat roller were pulled over stubbles to generate a stale seedbed. This also helped counteract the Bettinson’s tendency to leave a wide open slot. By producing a fine surface tilth, the soil behind the doubledisc openers would crumble back into the slot, making it a much less attractive place for slugs. “When we made the switch from ploughing we immediately saw crop performance improve, and that was down to fewer slugs, less run-off, and more even germination. “In fact, by the late ‘70s we were flying – we came second in ICI’s national directdrilling competition, which looked at whole-farm performance. “It proved we could outperform conventionally established crops even on our flint-strewn, difficult clay ground. In one crop of winter barley we got 1480 ears per square meter, which resulted in our

KEY POINTS • Patience is essential – only go drilling when the conditions are right. If it won’t go in the autumn there’s always the option of spring cropping • With direct-drilling it’s all about germination – focus on even establishment and everything else will follow • Soil structure is the critical factor – focus on improving it by increasing organic matter and rooting, and workability will follow • Straw and muck – pretty much everything is baled behind the combine so there’s no issue with crop residue (except cover crops) and it all goes for cattle feed and bedding, returning to the land as farmyard manure • Erosion – lots of steep banks means hillsides are always worked across the slope to minimise run-off • Rolling – ring rolls achieve very little on Chaldon’s direct-drilled clays. Heavy flat rolls are employed instead to close the slot and conserve moisture.


best ever yields – sadly I’ve never managed to repeat it.” The success of no-till in the Surrey hills wasn’t experienced across the rest of the country. Grass weed control, compaction, and the ban on stubble burning prompted many growers to turn away from direct drilling. At the time, the arable acreage had grown again at Chaldon Court and more output was required. Power-harrow and tine-cultivator drills followed, enabling the sowing of crops in suboptimal conditions. “Moving back to more intensive cultivations we slowly saw our yields tail off, often as a result of waterlogging and slug issues – much caused by tillageinduced panning and the almost complete destruction of any soil structure. “By the early 2000s I was convinced that we needed to return to no-till. The Bettinson had proved the concept would work but it wasn’t without its faults – particularly its tendency to leave an open, slug-friendly slot. “We’d been in the privileged position of working with Amazone on some of their trial work with combination drills and I’d heard about a new tine-type direct-drill and was keen to be one of the first to try it.” When the opportunity came up to demo the new Primera, Roger leaped at it. “It was the first drill that offered a realistic opportunity to return to no-till. The way each knife opener could move independently meant it could work around our flints rather than riding up over them, compromising seed depth. “We immediately put our name down for it and ended up with the 6m UK prototype.”


November 2020

That same drill was still doing all the establishment work 15 years later at Chaldon Court – some 1000-1200ha a year with cover and forage crops. “We saw yields return to what they had been with the Bettinson. You could go in any conditions and as fast as you liked. But when working at 25-50mm it moved way too much soil and, with blackgrass becoming an issue, we needed to minimise surface disturbance.”

ANOTHER DRILL Having made the decision that the Primera needed an easier ride and that the target of getting all the autumn crops sown in a week would require more output, he set out to find another 6m drill. In the autumn and spring of 2017/18 all makes of no-till drills were trialled at Chaldon on the trickiest soils to make sure they could cope with the worst the farm could offer. Some struggled, some failed. “Pricing varied widely as did build quality and, given that I’m expecting my drills to do a good 20-30 years work, that’s pretty important. It was the Sky that stood out on this front. “It’s effectively an updated take on the Moore Unidrill concept. I liked the way the discs could bury seed to a decent depth without digging a wide open trench. But where it really outdid the competition was in its ability to sow and drill three different seeds/products at once.” Roger has been experimenting with different cover and catch crops for decades, aiming to ensure no ground is left bare at any point. While this isn’t always possible, the EasyDrill’s ability to sow different species independently means seed rates can be varied according to conditions. “Being able to keep seed separate – rather than using mixes – and tweak rates as well as applying slug pellets or Avadex, makes the Sky drill a really versatile tool. We can do so much more in one pass. “I’ve pretty much settled on using oats, vetches, and phacelia in different proportions according to the season. The ability to alter the ratios is particularly important because we don’t want to end up with too much bulk from any particular species. The combination we’ve settled on doesn’t compromise our take-all situation but it’s vigorous and quick to establish.” Working into well-established cover crops to sow spring cereals the EasyDrill copes well, cutting through the mat of material to place the seed into tilth at a decent depth.


November 2020

The extremely high levels of flint in Chaldon’s red clays makes for some pretty challenging drilling conditions.

SEEDING DEPTH The ability to alter seeding depth quickly is a major plus – each bogey-type coulter carriage looks after a pair of openers. To adjust seed placement a locking nut is loosened and simple collars are used to vary how far the discs drop into the dirt. Hydraulic rams set downforce by adjusting the fore/aft bias on the coulter carriages’ front and rear press wheels. To date the system has worked well – there was just one day last autumn when drilling had to stop. “We were working on the worst ground we’ve got – extremely heavy clay with large amounts of big flints and baked hard after last summer’s drought. It is contract farmed land that hasn’t had the benefit of decades of cover cropping so it hasn’t had the chance to build organic matter. “We’ve got similar soils in other places that we’ve farmed for years but because it’s been looked after it can now “self structure” and is workable no matter what the weather has been doing.” After 1000ha of work in some pretty dry, hard conditions, the opener discs’ scalloped serrations are beginning to wear. The ability to alter the height of the combined scraper/coulter boot means there’s the option to wear the discs right back without compromising seed placement. However, Roger doesn’t want to get caught short and has a full set of wearing metal in the workshop to ensure the drill can keep moving. “Seeing the discs disappear in last autumn’s horrendously harsh conditions I was nervous about just how long they’d

last so I ordered up a new set. “I was pleasantly surprised at the cost – about £70 (NZ$140) per disc. Although on a 6m drill with 36 coulters that tots up to a fair lump of cash, on a per acre basis it’s peanuts.”

BIG SAVING Roger estimates there’s a saving of 25-30% to be had by switching from plough-based to direct drilling. But it’s not all about pounds, shillings and pence. “Putting the potential yield benefits and environmental impact to one side, the biggest saving comes in time. It used to take three months of ploughing, cultivating, harrowing, drilling and rolling to get our autumn crops in the ground – now it’s just five or six days with two 6m drills and a heavy set of flat rolls. “That means we can choose when to go drilling – always in the best conditions. By sowing cereals at the optimum time we get the best possible results – this is the single biggest factor in direct-drilled crops outperforming conventionally established ones. “By only going out when conditions are ideal we get uniform crop emergence which directly translates into even growth and ultimately a more uniform crop all the way through. I believe that has a huge impact on yields and, equally importantly, quality. “But there’s another less tangible benefit – when the direct-drilled crops are up and away nothing else ever looks as good. That provides an enormous sense of satisfaction.”



Is it too little, too late for tahr? BY: ANNABELLE LATZ


ositive discussions have taken place between the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Game Animal Council (GAC) regarding the current aerial tahr control programme, resulting in changes to control work outside Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland/Te Poutini National Parks. In July, DOC was ordered by the High Court to undertake only 125 aerial control hours of the proposed 250 hours under the Tahr Control Operational Plan for 2020/21 before undertaking further consultation. DOC was also requested to analyse oral and written submissions from stakeholders involved in the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group (TPILG), before making its decision and releasing its final Operational Plan. The TPILG includes representatives


from the hunting sector, Ngai Tahu, ecology, conservation, research, high country farmers, tramping fraternity, meat processing industry, and government bodies. The management of Himalayan tahr is governed by DOC’s statutory plan, the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993, that stipulates the tahr population is to be monitored and limited in their South Island range which includes Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland/Te Poutini National Parks. In total, this area is 706,000ha, divided up into seven tahr management units. On September 1 DOC announced the distribution of its remaining 125 hours of aerial control outside the national parks would remain largely as per the original plan. The tahr hunting sector remained disappointed and concerned that DOC’s

estimated population numbers were too high, population research was out of date, and aerial control was being targeted to the wrong areas thus effectively eliminating the tahr population for hunters in some places. “It’s really sad, as there’s so much common ground between stakeholders with 90% of the recent submissions all on the same page,” said Tahr Foundation spokesperson Willie Duley. On September, 8 DOC met with the Game Animal Council (GAC) to discuss where the remaining 77 hours of control work outside the two national parks would be undertaken. Following plenty of discussion, it was agreed to reallocate some of the control hours to target less accessible areas of the feral range, and keep the more accessible areas for hunters. “We are reducing our previously planned control hours within the South Rakaia


November 2020

Above: Will this still be a feature of our mountains in the future? The hunting industry is unsure. Left: Hunters worry that tahr hunting may become a thing of the past if drastic changes aren’t made with population control methods.

and Upper Rangitata management unit which is favoured by hunters,” DOC’s Operational Director Dr Ben Reddiex said. DOC agreed to avoid popular hunting spots and huts, focus on controlling high densities of tahr within terrain that is less suitable for ground hunting. It would leave identifiable male tahr for hunters outside of the national parks’ management unit, improve hunter access by extending the popular tahr ballot. The latest control data is regularly updated on DOC’s website. GAC general manager Tim Gale was satisfied with the result of the discussions, and this is what the tahr hunting sector wanted all along – an open discussion and to have all the information on the table. “Everyone has always agreed that tahr do need managing, it’s about how much, how many tahr, by whom, and where. It’s about the quantum of control.” GAC mapped out areas and suggested places where recreational hunters were unable to access and official control should target, as opposed to ballot landing sites and really popular hunting areas.


November 2020

“It was a two-way, free and frank discussion about the pros and cons of the current allocation of hours within the Management Units, and the merits of reallocating hours,” Gale said. The outcome was positive, which now means DOC is still getting the tahr control they wanted, and the tahr hunting sector can continue to hunt in the popular and accessible areas. Gale said the potential risk lies in the coming year, the drop in breeding due to the number of juveniles and nannies that have been targeted by recent control programmes. “The bulls will start to die of natural mortality, or get shot, and with reduced recruitment, the population may just fall off the cliff in some places.” In mid October DOC held a meeting with the TPILG to discuss a Research and Monitoring Strategy in order to help identify priorities for tahr research and monitoring. “There are questions we need to be asking in the research. How many tahr the habitat can handle, how many tahr and what types of tahr hunters need to have a good experience. It’s about tahr population impacts and ecology, understanding hunting, knowing how many bulls there are compared to nannies and what will happen with future herd structure. Also, how this research takes place, when, and who does it,” Gale said before the meeting. Duley sees very little concession, as the same amount of culling hours still stand

and DOC continues to target the highly prized bull tahr in national parks. He is also nervous about the damage being done to the tahr herd structure by DOC’s annihilation of the breeding nanny population as well as the juveniles, of which 50% will be males. “We will see the real damage in the years to come, there won’t be those young bull replacements and as soon as the old bulls die off, there will be some massive age gaps. This won’t help when the tourist hunters come back looking for a trophy bull.” Duley says it’s a case of ‘too little too late’ for DOC’s decision to back out early from some of the management units and they should have listened to the industry’s advice on where culling was needed from the word go. “We’re on the ground, we know the tahr hot spots but they ignored us”. “They have already culled those units in round one, so the damage is already done. It’s only logical that they would now focus on the more inaccessible areas with higher populations. It’s just really sad, this whole process could have been managed so much better by DOC, without all the conflict. I’m deeply concerned about what future lies ahead for the tahr and all hunting communities around the country.” James Cagney, Professional Hunting Guides Association president, says the $103 million commercial hunting industry must be protected. Continues

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At least 95% of those hunters are from outside our borders, and of that, 82% are from the United States. Cagney adds that 20% of that international market is tahr driven, as NZ is the only readily accessible tahr hunting destination in the world. Hunters capitalise on this, usually hunting for red stags too. If the tahr hunting option was removed, hunters would most likely choose a destination closer to their own homes to hunt for red stags. “The big factor with tahr is they are a really big drawcard for overseas hunters. The value of the tahr herd to the hunting industry is greater than the revenue generated by tahr.” Cagney is concerned DOC is launching into the culling programme without pausing to assess the numbers of tahr currently out there. “We have a male-bias herd, the proposed culling could reduce the breeding population to as low as 2000 females.” He says in the last three years more than 18,000 tahr have been killed, and DOC’s failure to pause and assess numbers has caused genuine fear amongst the hunting community. “The 1993 Plan talks about a number of 10,000, but wasn’t hard and fast. It’s time to pause, do some monitoring, establish where the herd is currently, and propose what the population will look like afterwards.” Cagney explains the required research really has two basic stages. The first is to establish how many there are, get a gauge of the demographic and male/female densities. The second is getting into the nuts and bolts, scientifically assessing the impact on vegetation and how many tahr specific areas can sustain. “The hunting sector values our biodiversity just as much as the conservationists do. But we believe with science and proper management, we can have positive outcomes for both.”

PENDULUM NEEDS TO SWING BACK The Himalayan Tahr Plan from 1993 sits on the shelf in Dr David Norton’s office in the Forestry Department at the University of Canterbury gathering dust. “I say to my students, there is no point creating something that is going to sit on the shelf and gather dust, it has to be something you reference and use regularly.” Norton is a Professor in Ecology and Conservation Biology, and someone who has been knocking around in


Map of Tahr Management Units Tahr Management Units 1993 Exclusion Zones


Tahr Feral Range

South Whitcombe Whataroa

National Park

Northern Exclusion Zone

Conservation Park (Specially protected area) Reserve Stewardship Area


Other Public Conservation Land

Westland/Tai Poutini National Park



South Rakaia Upper Rangitata

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park





Gammack Two Thumb

Ben Ohau


Wills Hunter Ahuriri Valley


Wills Hunter Boundary Creek


Southern Exclusion Zone

Wills Hunter Timaru/Dingle Burn Rivers

± the mountains for the past 40-odd ongoing implementation. I really believe years, and also an expert on forest and that only through true collaboration will alpine systems, and holds a thorough we be able to get a sustainable solution understanding of the partnership between that meets both conservation and hunter land users, hunters, and the environment. interests.” As herbivores and mob animals, tahr Norton was left feeling more optimistic eat grasses, herbs, shrubs, tussocks, forest after recent conversations with DOC, but seedlings, and in turn can change tall it is always a worry of his when politics tussock grassland to short gets in the way of sensible tussock grassland. resource management ‘Everyone has “They also eat large decision making. always agreed palatable herbs, and enjoy “The pendulum needs soft palatable food like to swing back again. that tahr do need buttercups, including the managing, it’s about We all need to sit down Mt Cook Buttercup.” together and work out how much, how “Population density how to move forward should have been many tahr, by whom, with managing tahr in a managed over the years and where. It’s about collaborative manner.” since the plan was He acknowledges DOC the quantum of written in 1993, and has not had the funding control.’ vegetation monitoring to put their required plots measured regularly, resources into the plan, and DOC should have been working with but the two fundamental problems of lack hunters the whole time, but these things of tahr population management and lack haven’t happened.” of communication needs to be sorted out. Norton shares Gale’s view that there has “The blame doesn’t lie with any one been some really good progress recently community. But there needs to be a between DOC and stakeholders, but these rational discussion about how many conversations need to lead to further animals are out there and what their change. impacts are at different densities and “I guess my hope and wish is that the in different areas, so let’s get some communication between DOC and GAC good science in there, and figure out evolves into the development of a new a sustainable management solution version of the tahr control plan and to its together.”


November 2020


Negative messages unhelpful BY: KERI JOHNSTON


ural advocates have called for the Government to consider the effects of policies on rural communities and farmer wellbeing when drafting them. I would extend this and ask rural media to do the same when it is reporting on them. I was having a very interesting conversation this week about rural media and how we are our own worst enemies. You only have to look at the headlines of farming publications that arrive in our mailboxes each week and it's often a ‘doom and gloom’ story that commands the front page. And this is particularly true when it comes to the new Essential Freshwater Reforms. Rural mental health is a real concern, no doubt about that at all, but when a lot of what is out there in media land is about the reforms being a repeat of the Rogernomics era and that the rules as written will end pastoral and arable farming as we know it, or that the reforms are just the result of a minister on a personal crusade cannot be helping those already finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Now please don’t get me wrong, there are elements of the reforms which if I was drafting them, would not look like they do at the moment, but to constantly dwell on the negatives and fire shots at the Government, ministers and anyone else involved in the process of developing them isn’t going to change where we are today. It’s also not an excuse to do nothing. I have been working in environmental regulation for the last 20 years, and I can honestly say not one single process I have been involved with has got it perfectly right the first time, but regardless, you do what you can, and implement what can be implemented because it’s the right thing to do. Digging your toes in and doing nothing is actually not acceptable. I don’t think anyone disagrees with what the freshwater reforms were trying


November 2020

Riparian planting alongside a stream through a dairy farm.

to achieve – stopping further degradation of freshwater resources, reversing past damage and moving towards a holistic, ki uta ki tai approach to management of the natural environment. So, if the ‘direction of travel’ of the reforms is actually okay, the question we need to ask ourselves now is how can we partner with the Government and iwi to deliver on this in a way that is practical, fair, and outcomes focused? We need to rise above the criticism, roll our sleeves up, get some dirt under our nails, and do what we do best – we are the most innovative farmers in the world, so let’s do this. And to those who revel in the negative

all the time, it’s easy to criticise from the sidelines, but if you are not going to offer a solution, then stop complaining. There is a difference between speaking up about what is not right in a constructive manner, rather than being destructive, and the key difference between the two is offering a way forward. Think about the impacts your negativity is having on our rural communities, after all, we actually want the same things and just because we are not quite aligned on how we get there doesn’t mean we stop trying. It means we pick ourselves up, reflect on how we got here and try a different tack.



Above: Lynda Gray on the job. Top right: The number of sheep scanned an hour varies but generally ranges between 300 to 400. Above right: Blair Stewart has been pregnancy scanning sheep and cattle for 25 years.

Scan Central: Living the dream BY: LYNDA GRAY


made the temporary job switch from journalist to offsider to get away from my computer screen and deadlines, and back to some real-life hands-on farming. My job description was ‘worker’ and my main tasks were shoving ewes into the crate for scanning, ‘dotting’ them with raddle on backs or nose according to their pregnancy status, and generally making sure the sheep kept coming. It was a mind numbingly repetitive job, although boss Blair Stewart frequently reminded me that I was “living the dream”. My typical day from mid-June until


early mid-August started with a 4.15 alarm wake-up, then pick-up and travel to farflung woolsheds and yards throughout the Central and West Otago regions. After arrival in the dark at the destination in sub-zero temperatures the set-up process started: on with a headlamp then up onto the trailer to help lug off the crate, panels, pins across muddy yards to set up for scanning. A tolerance for cold hands, cold feet and freezing cans of raddle were unwritten expectations as was the ability to deal with the quirks of different sheep. At one end of the spectrum were sulky Merinos that on a bad day had to be physically pushed and shoved in and out of the crate; at the other extreme were turbo-charged run country

Perendales hell-bent on head-butting anything and anyone in their way. My tales of woe would lead you to believe I hated every minute of my temporary work status but the weird thing is that despite the cold, the early starts, the mud and long days I generally enjoyed the job. Knowing it was a temporary gig helped but I liked being the anonymous worker and observer of the everyday stuff that goes on within farm gates around the countryside. The smokos and lunch were always a highlight as were the random topics of conversation, and the occasional off-colour story. The dogs were another source of entertainment. Most were good and keen;


November 2020

PLANNING FOR SCANNING The optimal time for scanning is between days 70 and 100 of pregnancy, if it’s held off beyond this time it’s usually difficult to accurately decipher twins. • Empty stock the night before scanning. It’s difficult to get a good scanning image from a ewe straight off the paddock. • Keep a note of tupping dates and when rams are taken out of mobs. • Book your scanning date well in advance. • Make sure there is good access and level space for the setting up of scanning equipment. • Have plenty of help to keep sheep pushed up and moving through the scanning crate. • Have on hand full cans of raddle. The quality of the scanning image isn’t as good from full or over-fat ewes.

the names of the not so good were etched on my brain by the end of the day. I worked for Scan Central owned by Blair Stewart who's been in the business for 25 years. As well as ewes he scans beef and dairy cows. Blair, along with three sub-contractors scan thousands of ewes throughout Otago. The season kicks off in June with crossbreds and finishes in August with halfbreds and Merinos. He spends several weeks in the lead up to the season putting together a scanning roster. It’s a juggling act based around ewe mating dates, mob sizes and farm location. Coming up with the perfect plan is impossible because there’s always someone who wants to change their date at the last minute, or someone who leaves booking in till the last minute. It happens every year and usually it’s the same repeat offenders . “They forget that with scanning there is no tomorrow. There’s a very limited window for accurate scanning which is why we have to get the job done as quick as possible and move on to the next,” Blair says. Typically, farmers will put shearing ahead of scanning which in his view is the wrong way around. “With shearing another week of wool growth doesn’t make a lot of difference, but holding off scanning for a week can make a big difference.”


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Scanning is a mentally and physically demanding job. To get an accurate image means getting good contact between the scanning probe and the skin on the right hand side of the udder which is hard physical work, especially on the denser-woolled halfbreds and merinos. The intensely repetitive shoulder, arm and wrist action can wreak havoc on the body, so too can prickles and thistles in the belly wool. It takes concentration to quickly decipher what’s on the screen and work out the pregnancy status of a ewe. Then there’s a strange co-ordination sequence of recording the number of lambs with a button on the hand control while foot operating pneumatic gates to draft the ewe into the right mob. Of course, farmers aren’t interested in the process and the aches and pains involved, what they want are the results and how they compared with the previous year. “We do the job and give them the results but how they use them to maximise production is up to them.” They also want to know how they compare with the neighbours, a question that is deflected with a standard “not bad” reply. At most of the farms I went to twins, single and dries plus ‘early’ and ‘late’ lambing ewes were identified. For the

record this year’s scanning percentages were slightly back, especially so in Central Otago where farmers had less-than-usual feed on hand for flushing due to the dry autumn and Covid-19 which left them stuck with lambs they couldn’t send away.

MAKE SCANNING COUNT B+LNZ has a number of suggestions on how to practically use scanning information: culling dries and priority feeding of multiple lambing ewes is the obvious. Good feeding of multiples during lactation should help ewes wean a heavier weight of lamb and increases their chances of having multiples the next season. Sorting ewes into twin and single lambing mobs means farmers can plan in advance lambing paddocks allocating areas with better shelter and more pasture cover for multiple-bearing ewes if few suitable paddocks are available. Scanning information can also help quantify losses between scanning and birth or tailing. Some farmers use scanning to condition score ewes, taking off lighter weight ewes for priority feeding. • According to Making Every Mating Count (B+LNZ) lamb losses between scanning and tailing average 20% for crossbreds (for scanning levels between 130%-170%) and for Merinos 26% (for scanning levels between 90% and 130%).




A case of multi-tasking BY: KIRSTIN MILLS


t is often useful to have more than one screen while working. I use my laptop screen and have a larger external screen to its side. Sometimes I wish I had a third screen, but I cannot justify the cost (and nor do I have the space). Fortunately, there are workarounds that can help.

SPLIT SCREENS Each morning I have a task that requires me to have a browser and two Word documents open, copying and pasting between the three windows. Copying and pasting would soon become tiresome if it were not for the ability to split one of the screens. I have the browser open in one Window on my main screen and the two


Word files in a window each on a split screen on my laptop. This is easy to do. 1. Make sure you have opened the two Windows you wish to place side by side (they do not have to be the same application). In this example we are placing an Excel file and Word file side by side. 2. With one of the windows open (in this case the Excel file), hold down the Windows key on your keyboard (usually somewhere on the bottom left of your keyboard) and tap the left arrow key. 3. This will move that window to the left side of your screen and bring up icons for all the other open windows on the right. 4. Click on the other icon for the window you want on your split screen, and it will open beside the first Window. 5. If you want to make one of the windows wider, just hover your mouse over the middle until the cursor changes into an arrow and drag it to the left or right. To get out of the split view, just click and hold on the top of the window and drag to the corner of your screen and release – it should maximise the screen. You can also use the maximise button on the top right of the window.

Sometimes you need a full screen rather than a split screen. Or perhaps you are working on two projects and want to keep some files open, but out of the way, while working on some others. This is where a new desktop comes in handy; it is like having another screen attached to your computer. 1. Look on the bottom left of your screen for the Task View icon. 2. If you cannot see that icon, right click on your taskbar, and make sure “Show Task View” is ticked. 3. Click on the icon. The desktops display along the top of the screen (they are empty to start with except for the desktop you are using – Desktop 1). The icons for all the windows you have open show below. 4. Drag the window you want to move up to Desktop 2, letting go once it is on the window. You can add as many windows as you like to a new desktop. You can also create multiple desktops by clicking on the New Desktop box beside the existing Desktops. 5. You can easily switch between the desktops by holding the Windows and Ctrl key and using the left and right arrow keys. You can also click on the Task View icon and click on the desktops that appear at the top of the page. 6. Once you want everything consolidated back to one desktop, click on the Task View icon and click the cross on the top right of the desktop/s at the top of the screen. Anything that was open in them will come back to the main desktop. Just remember when you have applications open in multiple desktops to close everything before you shut down your computer – it can be easy to forget about them.


November 2020


Outcrops adjacent to the Devil’s Staircase.

Panoramas and proximity BY: PETER SNOWDEN


he overnight tramp to Jubilee Hut in the Silver Peaks offers great views and good track and hut facilities. This combined with proximity to Dunedin makes this overnight round trip well worth the effort. The departure point for the first day is only 25 minutes’ drive North of Dunedin. It can fairly be described as Dunedin’s backyard. There would be few overnight tramping circuits more accessible to a major New Zealand city. The carpark is on Mountain Road reached via Double Hill Road off State Highway 1 just North of Waitati. The track goes via the former Green Hut site and climbs to Pulpit Rock, almost the highest point in the Silver Peaks at 670m. The elevation allowed us to appreciate views toward the Rock and Pillar Range, Strath Taieri, and sweeps of the Otago coast. This is a popular day walk for locals. However, on our March trip the only people we encountered on the track were a farming couple returning from Jubilee Hut with their two young grandchildren. Beyond Pulpit Rock we were surrounded


November 2020

by further impressive views gaining a perspective of the landscape to the North. From the trail among tussock, Astelia, and sub-alpine turpentine scrub the delightfully named Painted Forest emerged on our left. This is an area of beech forest that appears to be happily regenerating. Tracks in this region are maintained by a commendable and energetic group of volunteers known as the Green Hut Track group. They devote a day a week to maintaining much of the extensive track network in the Silver Peaks and Silverstream areas. The descent to Jubilee Hut is via the Devil’s Staircase, a steep and rocky portion of the track. It was useful to have a walking pole at hand. Jubilee Hut appears in the distance as you descend among rocky outcrops to a creek. There are good camping sites by the creek, which in summer would be an inviting option with shade among mature beech trees. We were thrilled to get some good views of a fernbird in this area. These scrub-dwelling shy natives are seldom seen but the Silver Peaks seem a stronghold for them. The single room new build (2007) overlooks the creek below and the site of

an earlier hut. While we idled away time on the hut porch in the late afternoon a pair of native falcons appeared overhead and returned the next morning – a memorable sight. In the morning the sun tidied up the day, evaporating fog fragments as we climbed via the ABC caves to Yellow Ridge. The caves hold a sleeping platform offering a rudimentary overnight option with stargazing opportunities. Fresh pig sign was evident among the tussock in a number of places along Yellow Ridge but the expansive views were the feature of this part of the track. Much of the track is along exposed ridges and open country and, although our journey was in fine conditions, poor weather would make it unpleasant – pick your weather window. On arriving at the modern four-bunk Philip J. Cox Memorial Hut it was time for a cuppa. Onward, and a steep descent through kanuka and remnant totara took us to the south branch of Waikouaiti River, with a stop or two to sample fat ripe blackberries along the way. The steep climb from the river to Mountain Road was under a Douglas fir plantation. Then it was what seemed a long journey back to the car along the gravel road, completing the circuit.



Fewer hectares in sheep, beef and deer, fewer lambs slaughtered. But very similar amount of lamb meat sold.

Demonstrating our adaptability BY: SHARL LIEBERGREEN


o, 2020. Quite a lot going on, right? We thought it was going to be an interesting year with the election and then - Whammo! Covid-19, warmest winter ever, water and biodiversity policy, drought, etc, and now the suggestion of lower stock prices 2021. Will it ever end! Sorry, no. The road ahead has plenty of twists and turns yet to come, but we do know this. It is not new. We have been subject to plenty of changes and shocks in the past, and what have we done? Adapted. So much so, that I wonder whether we can apply an interesting term to our ability to keep our heads above water. Antifragility is a term Pete Fennessy has been slinging around AbacusBio for a couple of years now and I am beginning to appreciate it. Antifragility is the ability to resist shocks. In fact, it suggests that shocks, volatility, mistakes, attacks, or failures actually change us to the point that we become better than we were previously. We don’t just absorb the shock and go back to the way things were. We modify our behaviour and actions and move forward in a different, improved direction. We have been here before. Oil price


shocks, massive fluctuations in prices for wool and lamb, changes and removals of subsidies, brucella, tuberculosis (who remembers those?), responses by banks, forced farm exits, Mycoplasma bovis, and the rise of dairying and forestry. How does the anti-fragile rear-view mirror look? Pretty good actually. Large reduction in national ewe flock, fewer hectares in sheep, beef and deer, fewer lambs slaughtered. But very similar amount of lamb meat sold, 0.40kg increase per year sheep meat sold per ewe, more feed produced/ewe/year, resulting in 1% gain in kg sheep meat per tonne of drymatter, per year. In addition, lambs tailed per ewe have increased to 132% on average, carcase weights of lambs and ewes are also up. We have even changed our slaughter pattern to fit with the demands of our markets (guided by our world-class pricing schedules). We kill 34% fewer lambs November-June, and 36% more JulyOctober. So, we have done bloody well. In reflecting on our antifragile abilities, Peter often identifies one or two regular farmers of decades gone by who (in the face of a shock) first get frustrated and then start a movement. They knew that to survive, they had to do something different, so they thought about what

they could do - they researched the technological landscape, they talked to others, invested, and generated the knowledge they needed. Whether grazing management, pasture varieties, new breeds, performance recording, equipment, or information, they adapted, survived, and became recognised as leaders. Internationally, food security is now at the forefront of the minds of many governments and agencies. Covid-19, with laser focus, has exposed the shortcomings of the international food chain. We felt it early with the inability to get containers through the ports of China. The United States (and others) was impacted in processing plants by the requirements of social distancing and sickness. New Zealand’s orchards are still struggling to find pickers when normally we would import workers from the Pacific islands. Antifragility, while painful and distressing when in our face, actually positions us well on the global stage. We are well recognised as very efficient producers of safe food. Pandemic, climate, geopolitical ructions, and many other disturbances, in the end make us better than we have ever been, and the world is looking to us for leadership and support.


November 2020


Co-op sets lofty emissions target


armlands Co-operative has committed to reducing emissions by a minimum of 30% by 2030, after receiving carbonreduce certification from Toitu Envirocare. At a presentation last month at Farmlands’ Wairakei Road support office, Christchurch, Toitu Envirocare (formerly Enviro-Mark Solutions) confirmed the rural supplies and services co-operative had achieved the necessary criteria. This involved measuring Farmlands’ carbon footprint and putting in place targets and initiatives to help reduce it. Farmlands reached out to Toitu Envirocare, a subsidiary of Farmlands Partner, Manaaki Whenua, to assist in measuring the co-operative’s environmental impact in early 2020. Toitu’s certification will act as the cornerstone of an internal organisation sustainability programme, while Farmlands’ Growth and Innovation team will support shareholders in achieving sustainable goals within their own businesses. Farmlands’ Director of External Relations, Mark McHardy says certification is very important for the organisation in reducing its

environmental impact. “The certification forms the foundation of our internal drive to improve our carbon footprint. It starts with our staff and if we can tick off the easy wins first, we will set ourselves up to continuously improve,” Mr McHardy says. Toitu Technical Advisor/Product Specialist, Andrew Mackenzie is confident that Farmlands will be able to achieve the sustainability goals put in place under the Carbon reduce Certification. “Farmlands has put in the right sort of goals for their footprint, ambitious but achievable. The Certification requires a yearly audit, so we are consistently following the data and keeping on top of how the emissions are tracking,” Mackenzie says. Farmlands chief executive Peter Reidie says while the dream is for shareholders to produce outputs with an environmentally friendly, sustainable backing, it needs to start within the cooperative.

Farmlands Director - External Relations, Mark McHardy (centre) holding the Toitu carbonreduce certificate, joined by Farmlands Chief Executive Peter Reidie (left) and Toitu Technical Advisor/Product Specialist, Andrew Mackenzie.

• To find out more on Toitu Envirocare’s Carbonreduce Certification, see: www.toitu.

Now a plant-based milk bottle Anchor has added to its Blue range, with a new 2L bottle made from sugarcane - which is a natural, renewable and sustainably sourced material The new bottle is an example of sustainable packaging which research indicates is increasingly important to consumers. The bottle is 100% kerbside recyclable, and aligns with Fonterra’s commitment to have all packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Milk in the new plant-based bottle reach supermarket shelves across the North Island from October 13. The sugarcane is natural, renewable and


November 2020

sustainably sourced, and is an alternative to bottles made from non-renewable sources like fossil fuels. In addition, sugarcane captures CO2 from the atmosphere as it grows, resulting in a bottle that also has a low carbon footprint. The sugarcane is made into plant-based HDPE plastic in Brazil and the bottle itself is made here in New Zealand. Fonterra Brands New Zealand Managing Director Brett Henshaw says: “We know sustainability is important to Kiwis and we want to offer consumers an option to make change for good - to purchase a product that comes in more sustainable packaging.”



Top left: Hemp cake, the crushed residue would be good stock food but can’t be fed to animals due to regulations. Top right: Angus herd sires on Brent Mathews farm. Centre, right: Bob and Robin Barrell, Taihape, share a drink with local farmer David Lynch (centre) at last month's Keinzley Agvet Wairarapa Farm Business of the Year field day. The Barrell's daughter, Jane McKenzie, and her husband Stu were winners of the 2020 award. Above: More than 250 locals attended last month's field day on the 2020 Keinzley Agvet Farm Business of the Year winning property, the McKenzie family's Te Rangi Station in Whangaehu Valley to the north-east from Masterton. Centre, left: Te Rangi Station staff, shepherd Liam Af Ekstroin von Sabbar, fencer Judah Little, fencer-general Stephen McWilliams and partner Penny Saunders-Francis.



November 2020

Top left: Tulips on the Drysdales' Balfour farm. Top right: The Drysdales are moving to shedding sheep. Centre, right: Newborn Hereford calf on Waipoapoa Station. Above: The Tahr Jam earlier in the year saw a mass entourage of people and vehicles make their way peacefully to Mt Cook Village to collectively voice their concern about the future of Tahr in NZ. Centre, left: Brent Mathews' loyal friend.


November 2020


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November 2020