Carbon Mining Exposed, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, March 2022.

A Southland farmer has stripped off in protest at policies encouraging carbon farming, Annabelle Latz writes. Photos by Chris Sullivan.

Once you plant an entire farm in trees as a carbon farm, that’s the farmland gone, forever. The day before Christmas, 2021, Southland farmer Logan Evans bared all in a video posted on the GroundswellNZ Facebook page. He was expressing his disgust and concern about the government’s solution to reducing carbon emissions. In the background of the video was Logan’s neighbour’s 1100-hectare property, a rolling sheep and beef farm. It was sold recently to the overseas company Ingka, the parent company of IKEA, for carbon farming, or ‘carbon mining’ as it is often referred. Logan says this country is being sold for carbon forestry.

A handful of local farming families tried to buy the farm, the highest offer of $10.8 million being far short of the $14.3 million price tag offered by Ingka to plant it in trees. Logan admits he can’t blame his neighbours who sold. “We just can’t compete with it though, can we.” He says he shares many fellow farmers’ concerns, that any overseas person wishing to buy less than 1000ha of forestry rights per calendar year, or if they are an Australian citizen or in some circumstances an Australian entity, are not even required to obtain a consent from the Overseas Investment Office. As a committee member of GroundswellNZ in Southland, he’d been talking to fellow members about the best way to get traction about this issue with a video.

More clicks clothed

A previous video about water quality Logan had posted received 230,000 views, but it was suggested more traction could be achieved if Logan’s face was in it. He took this suggestion one step further, and decided to have more than just his face showing. To keep his modesty, he held a container of glyphosate spray he said will soon be applied to his neighbours’ farm to destroy any existing vegetation. Logan was hoping the video would turn into clickbait.

“I wanted to get at least a couple of hundred thousand views, and ended up with 60,000 which was a bit disappointing.”

Anyone who knows him will appreciate he was not comfortable taking his clothes off for the video, he says. He believes rural New Zealand knows what’s going on with carbon mining and can appreciate what a poorly thought out policy it is. But urban NZ doesn’t understand that once a farm is mined for carbon, it’s gone from food production forever. “All the readers seeing this article will know what is wrong, but the main thing we have to do is motivate the rural people of NZ to tell this story to their urban friends, and explain that policies like this are worse for the environment, not better.” Logan says 25% of NZ’s native vegetation is on sheep and beef farms. These conflicting policies enforced by the Government are putting this under threat as these are the areas that suit carbon mining. It is ridiculous to think NZ can plant some of its best food producing land in trees for carbon mining and it will solve the world’s problems, he says.

“Meanwhile global emitters carry on their pollution, but market the fact they are carbon neutral – this is an absolute joke.” The trees taking up precious farmland only have a certain life span, and after about 100 years they will start dying, and emitting carbon. “I am no scientist, but why are we not deciding where we want to be in 100 to 200 years, why has this government only got a two-year plan?” He says the Government is looking for a solution to tick a box at the next United Nations summit but NZ’s environment and economy will suffer the consequences.

Fears about family’s farming future

Logan, 40, is the third generation on his family’s 3300ha sheep and beef farm Mt Peel in Otamita Valley, Southland. He and his wife Nicole have three young children, and he fears farming may not be an option for them. “That is the concern isn’t it, that is what I am here for, so my kids have the opportunity to farm, own and run a business in New Zealand.” He believes many traditional farming families are being driven out because of unworkable regulations, which makes them ripe pickings for carbon mining and the average NZ farmer can’t compete.

“When we lose these families we lose generations of environmental stewardship, we lose the life blood of our communities.”

Carbon farming by big overseas corporations like Ingka is demoralising for all the farmers who have been planting trees and looking after the environment for decades. “NZ farmers are doing so much amazing environmental work, but our story is not being told.” Logan says the solution for reducing greenhouse gases is not blanket planting in short-term pine trees, it is in reducing pollution and better-managing our existing natural landscapes. The urban public might think the government is doing the right thing and helping the planet, but the truth is otherwise. “.. as the world’s most efficient farmers, we want to feed people but this government is restricting this ability at a very rapid rate.”

Logan is confident Groundswell will continue to work hard to spread the word about unworkable policies such as carbon farming, and would like to see levy bodies do more too, telling positive environmental stories of NZ farming. There may be another video or two coming from Logan, you’ll just have to keep an eye out.

See the article online here

Carbon Mining Exposed, New Zealand | With Belles On
Carbon Mining Exposed, New Zealand | With Belles On
Carbon Mining Exposed, New Zealand | With Belles On

Beating the footrot curse, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, March 2022.

Apparently, a few decades ago you’d need your temperature taken if you were thinking of farming Merinos in the North Canterbury high country. With an annual rainfall of 1100mm and clay-based soil, out the back of Culverden neighbouring farmers the Reeds and the McRaes knew not everything was in their favour, but it was a challenge they were willing to accept, and they don’t regret it. Graham Reed and Beau McRae have been great mates for nearly 50 years. Graham and his wife Anne moved to The Grampians from Sheffield in 1973 when Beau and his wife Georgy were on Glens of Tekoa just down the road. In the mid 1970s Beau’s flock was all halfbreds with no wethers, but relying on the market of selling store lambs was no longer quite cutting it for the account books. Knowing he needed a change in direction, Beau chose to focus on a bigger type of Merino which he could cross with a halfbred, riding the wave of the juggle between retaining vigour and producing a stable type of sheep. Graham followed suit a few years later, departing from his 15-year tenure of Corriedale breeding at The Grampians, due to the frustration with the wool market and the price of meat.

“I figured I could grow better wool on Merinos and get better prices,” he says.

Graham and Beau both ran split flocks for a while, keeping their foot in the door of the lamb prices that did pick up again. “Crossbreeding did pay the bills, but so did the wethers,” Beau says. They both ran substantial stock numbers, which varied in ratios of halfbreds and Merinos over the years, eventually both choosing Merino flocks once the footrot problem dissipated. “Numbers varied year to year, especially with hogget numbers,” Graham says. Australia was making the wool price picture look good at the time, guaranteeing $7/kilogram, then $8/kilogram.

Market flooded

Beau recalled Australia flooded the market at such smart prices, so prices then fell by half in the 1990s. “But even at $7/kg, it was still better than what we were getting for the halfbreds.” Back in the 1980s, land development subsidies, stock incentive schemes and suspension loans all created a colourful picture for New Zealand farmers. Through the 1990s the fine wool struggled at about $7/kg. The NZ Wool Board threw farmers a lifeline by setting the minimum price. The wool began to stockpile in NZ and even more so in Australia, the demand for high end clothing such as Italian suits not quite being at the rate some had predicted.

Farmers started to chase the mid micron range, and even up to 19m which was deemed the best option for sports clothing because it was durable and comfortable. “It was all about the prickle factor, and the quality of the wool,” Graham says. Another factor taken into account when producing Merinos in less traditional Merino country, was the necessity to run more cattle. But they made a great job of cleaning up the native land, Merinos following and finishing off the job. Both farmers ran between 40-50% cattle stock units.

The flipside was that the higher the ratio of cattle, the less parasites in the sheep. In the earlier days, all the sheep would go on the native blocks in the autumn, and they’d lamb at about 85%. This method was tweaked in later years, whereby just the wethers would go out on the native land and the ewes would stay on higher-quality pasture.

Footrot strikes

Top dressing was a good solution to increase feed, because quality wool was all about that, but “then came the footrot”. “We were spending a lot of time tipping over sheep,” Graham says. It worsened in the 1990s with severe cases where sheep would find it difficult to move around and eat, creating breaks in the wool. “The average condition score would be well down, there was no doubt about that.” Beau was also battling with carpal tunnel syndrome in his hands from the constant foot trimming, so some tough decisions were being considered and there were thoughts about whether to carry on with Merinos or not. But then there was a turning point.

Near the end of the decade came the development of the footrot gene-marker test, thanks to Professor Jon Hickford from Lincoln University. Early days of the test involved blood testing Merino rams around the South Island, to see if there was a genetic link to footrot. Beau and Graham were both an instrumental part of this research, having been involved in the local branch of Federated Farmers and knowing about access to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Sustainable Farming Fund. So they applied for $300,000 to utilise this technology and arrange for stud rams around the South Island to be blood tested, given fellow farmers would get on board.

“It was about promoting this genetic technology, we worked out that the best approach was to give the money to stud breeders to test their own rams,” Beau says. A dozen studs around the South Island took part, the goal to find out what key sires did or did not have strong genetic links to footrot resistance. It was revealed that one particular MHC (major histocompatibility complex) gene called DQA2 was associated with sheep having a greater or lesser likelihood of developing footrot. This research became the basis of a gene-marker test that enabled sheep breeders to identify sheep that were considered less likely to develop this debilitating condition.

Footrot resistance

Beau says the main thing they learned was there was a genetic factor involved in footrot, it was quite heritable, and they could breed sheep that were resistant to it. “We’d start culling and stop treating, because beforehand we’d basically been breeding it.” Rams were ranked on a score of one to five, depending on the level of alleles, a gene variant (one of a pair of genes that appeared on a particular chromosome if the DQA2 gene was prevalent). Therefore, the idea was to have two ones which meant they were reasonably resistant. Beau admits it really hurt to cull an $800 ram or ewe with quality fleece because it had footrot. “That was a real lightbulb for me, we never knew there was a real genetic influence at all,” Graham says, adding that once they changed their method from treatment to culling and stopped vaccinating straight away, everything changed. It took about five years to see a difference, but it was a game changer in Merino farming and once they stopped tipping sheep all the time, they wondered how they ever did it. Into the 21st century, and Graham says farming Merinos began to paint a different picture.

“Footrot was no longer an issue for us, we didn’t need to trough or anything.”

In the early 2000s wool prices were at the lowest they’d been, while cattle prices were good and the fat lamb market wasn’t looking too bad either. Thus began a shift in focus to breeding a dual purpose sheep, pushing carcaseweight and good constitution while retaining the quality of the fine wool. Breeding for internal parasite resistance also became a reality. Producing an animal they are proud of is what Graham and Beau find most exciting about the Merino industry, where they can offer a product in high demand around the world. “It’s pretty satisfying to have a better clip, and if you get more weight too then that’s the deciding thing,” Beau says.

See the article online here

Beating the footrot curse, New Zealand | With Belles On
Beating the footrot curse, New Zealand | With Belles On

Debt repayment focus pays off, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, March 2022.

A family succession plan has seen a young couple establish their own farming operation in North Canterbury.

Farm succession can be a great thing if it’s talked about openly and honestly. This approach has seen Jim Burrows and Kim Marshall call Glenlake, an 840-hectare sheep, beef and crop farm at Waipara, their home since April 2018. Jim’s parents Paul and Mandy are dairy farmers from Mid Canterbury, and in 2017 they arranged a meeting with their two sons and partners, and their trusted adviser to discuss how everyone could be helped to be set up for the future. Everyone left that meeting on the same page, and was told things may not necessarily be equal, but they would be fair.

“Mum and Dad wanted to help us get into something while we were still young, rather than when we were in our 50s or 60s. The deal was that we had to have a good business model, we were not just going to be given cash,” Jim says.

Prior to the move, Jim, 36 and Kim, 33, were Marlborough-based living up the Awatere Valley where he was managing 550ha for the Peter family. Kim, also from Mid Canterbury originally, commuted each day into Blenheim where she was a chartered accountant, specialising in business advisory for WK Advisors and Accountants. She has continued this line of work from Waipara on a part-time basis and travels to their Christchurch and Blenheim office when needed.

About 12 years ago Jim and Kim did start to plan for the future financially, even if they weren’t sure what the exact picture would be. They bought 50 dairy cows and leased them to Jim’s parents. The lease was a replacement heifer for every three cows, which grew to 100 cows plus every other age group. “That started the capital, we then started selling age-group heifers. We also bought grazing lambs to put in the vineyards around Marlborough.” Life was busy, juggling these side hustles alongside his full time manager position, but it did feel good putting some extra funds away for the future. Jim admits he had become resigned to the fact he may have to be a manager perhaps forever, because climbing the rung of the ladder to farm ownership often seemed a financial impossibility. His parents were dairy farmers, and he had no interest in following in their footsteps.

“They had watched Kim and I build our personal assets over the previous eight years, and I remember mum saying ‘we knew you were so ready,” which is when they brought us all together to talk about succession.”

Pushing the go button

High country farming is where Jim’s heart truly lies, but this farm in North Canterbury was too good not to consider, even though Kim thought it would be well out of their price range. “The agent talked us into ‘looking at it,’” she says. Jim says it was also down to timing – everyone was coming out of rough times with the Global Financial Crisis and the farm had been on the market a few years. North Canterbury had been through a prolonged drought, the owners finally wanted out, and with that, their offer was accepted. So with this rolling hill farm a realistic possibility, the go button was pushed. They cashed up the stock they were leasing out. With those funds, a loan from the bank, and from Mandy and Paul, they managed to buy their own farm and stock. The young couple had never had debt before this, believing in the philosophy that if they didn’t have the cash, they didn’t need it. “Having debt with that many zeros on the end of it almost didn’t seem real, but we were excited to start building our future,” Jim says. 

Having their own place to invest in and run to the best of its capabilities was the best feeling, and with Kim’s financial skills, they could not have been happier. “It felt like home from the first night,” Kim says. They were not prepared to just go out and buy ewes for capital stock during their first winter there with the risk of value drop, so opted for dairy grazing and fattening lambs and store cattle to generate income without out laying more capital. That first winter was tough, and Kim was also commuting to Blenheim fairly often for her job. They were break-fencing 1100 cattle and grazing 3000 mixed-breed lambs to start them off.

“I’d be shifting 15 breaks a day, often by head torch, but it was worth it,” Jim says.

Jim and Kim agree their financial performance for the past three years has been good, with their gross farm income (GFI) about $1276/ha and $171/su. “We have been very financially focused, paying down debt when we can, or leveraging against our equity to invest in other opportunities. This is still a very big focus for us, however work/life balance is definitely something we still need to work on… one day,” Kim says. They made a point of running as lean as they could when they did start to buy capital stock, waiting 12 months before employing a casual worker one to two days a week. This meant they had the stock paid off in the first six months. Running lean included using contractors instead of buying machinery which meant the best person doing the job, minimal capital costs and repairs and maintenance. Careful spending for everyday items also played a big part. Their lean approach reflected in their ability to repay the debt, which in turn kept the bank happy, Kim says.

This worked in their favour particularly a year after being on the farm when the neighbours’ 170ha farm came up for sale. It was their goal to add more scope to the farm, but this premature opportunity was too good to turn down. “We thought this property might come up for sale in the next five years, not one. However, the bank was very supportive in helping us fund the next property, as we had proven we could be very aggressive with our debt repayments,” Kim says. They’ve since approached the bank again, to lend against their equity to mobilise funds they can invest.

“You’ve got to leverage what you’ve got and make your money work by investing it.

The bank sells you money

“The bank’s job is to sell you money, not look after it – when inflation is over 5% and bank interest is 0.5%, you’re pretty much going backwards if you have money sitting in savings doing nothing,” Jim says. In 2019 they ran their farm working expenses at 45%, 2020 was 42%, and 37% in 2021. “Most farmers sit over 50%, so we’re doing pretty well for this country,” Jim says. Their first son Ned was born in November 2019, Ben just over a year later in January 2021. Glenlake is early warm, healthy country, lambing in late July. Great fertility means they can focus on growing quality legumes, particularly lucerne, sub clover and if they happen to get some summer rain red and white clovers.

“When we arrived four years ago the farm had been used for service bulls and there hadn’t been a sheep on it for 10 years,” Jim says.

The first priority was fencing and replacing any small troughs with 750-litre troughs to increase water reliability. Anything Jim could get a tractor over that was growing browntop has been replaced with lucerne, herb and clover mixes, a tetraploid ryegrass and some permanent ryegrass mixes. He has sown another 30ha of lucerne this season, with 90ha already in the ground. “Our biggest focus is on growing legumes, for maximum production and for profitability.” Everything flatter, north facing or the drier paddocks is in lucerne but for grazing rather than balage. This does come with its challenges like stock deaths for ewes because of lack of fibre and subsequent gut problems. Jim admits it’s good bloat country too, with the lush short spring seasons. Clover and chicory make up 45ha of the farm which the hoggets are grazed on with lambs at foot until weaning, resulting in good production.

Looking around the farm this summer, it’s lush and the stock are thriving. But they have had some very hard lessons along the way too. The first year at Glenlake plenty of rain fell, so they bought 300 yearling bulls on top of all the trading stock already on, predicting plenty of growth. Then the worst thing that could happen, happened. “We had a dry autumn, and that is the biggest killer,” Jim says. Being caught short on feed and water made him grateful it was bulls he had, not steers. They managed to get through, but it was a good reminder that in North Canterbury you’re never too far away from a drought.

Buying capital stock was something Jim and Kim did not rush into, their philosophy being that capital stock is a long-term game, as once it’s paid off, it’s all profit and less working expenses. “It’s all about timing,” Jim says. On the farm they have 1500 maternal ewes that lamb about 148%. They will buy in 1000 one-year-old ewes this year in January to mate to Polled Dorset rams. There are 500-700 hoggets, which have scanned at 127% for the last two years and weaning 95%. Longdowns are the maternal breed of choice because of their exceptional growth rate along with great fertility. The average weaning weight is about 38kg, with the hogget lambs about 33kg.

Snow could not have fallen at a worse time last winter, with it being mid-lambing season, their lambing subsequently dropping by 12%. “If I’d age-scanned into tighter groups I’d have been able to prioritise shelter,” Jim says, adding that having your own farm is one big constant learning curve. The rams go out about February 25, with the plan to wean on November 15. “Normally 70% of the lambs are off to slaughter, aiming to kill at 20kg off their mum in the first draft. We keep the weights pretty high, aiming for 21kg post-weaning.” Longdowns aren’t flushed, and scan at about 175-180%, without looking for triplets.

Every three weeks after weaning they will draft more for slaughter. From November store lambs are bought, and over the summer there’ll be about 4000 which are fattened to 21kg and then sold off again. They shear every six months and usually break even on the ewe wool. They don’t drench the ewes, but because they’re fed so well there is very little pressure on them.

A dabble with Merinos

They’ve dabbled with a few fine-wool breeds like a Merino over Longdown hoggets, but they just weren’t achieving the desired lambing percentages or growth. Kim says Jim’s strength is being adaptive, looking for opportunities, and having not come from a sheep and beef family, he has no set tradition to follow. “We aim for a minimum return of 20c/ kg drymatter on trading stock and often do twice that, and it’s what we balance our business decisions on,” Jim says. The replacement lambs and ewes are shorn at weaning, and the ewes condition scored.

“I think this is actually the best time to condition score – you have heaps of time to put the weight back on rather than a month before tupping.”

On the cattle side of farm operations, they own about 100 mixed-age cows, half are stud Angus. They will also winter 200- 300 trading cattle, 100 R1 dairy heifers and replacement studs. Prior to Glenlake, Jim had worked on two Angus studs, and has always been keen to start his own. They have bought registered heifers and cows from KJ and Oregon in Wairarapa and Waiwheta in Waikato to form their own stud Glenlake Angus. There has also been some embryo work to help get them started, and Jim thanks his industry friends, Paul Hickman of Taimate Angus, and Angus Peter of Brackenfield Angus, for this.

They will not be keeping any commercial replacements, and these cattle will be phased out as studs replace them. They will sell all the stud bulls as yearlings in October or November. Fertile land for crops gives Jim and Kim plenty of options for feeding throughout the year. The ewes run on grass and winter crop from weaning until lambing, then are tailed on to lucerne. They grow brassica and fodder beet for the trading cattle. Once the ewes come off their lambing paddocks they’ll go on to the lucerne, and these grass paddocks are kept under control by the cattle in late spring. Some years they may halve the stock numbers by Christmas because of the dry, and if it’s a good summer they will buy more lambs.

“This system helps keep the feed under control,” Jim says, adding that pinch points for feed are around late summer and August/September, so they budget on growing lots of winter feed in autumn. For mating, they put stud cows to stud bulls as well as using some AI and embryo programmes. There is a focus on what he sees as maternal traits such as calving ease and constitution/rib fat, scrotal circumference, mature cow size and days to calving in particular. Jim says the focus on growth will come, but with a lot of beef cattle being pushed into the harder country many are not fed well enough to express their full potential growth at a young age anyway. Calving happens mid-August for the stud side, and September 1 for the commercial stock. Stud calves are tagged and weighed at birth. This year the calves were genomic tested as well as having their usual DNA parent test, to try and gain greater genetic predictability. All of the cows are boxed up after mating and rotationally grazed to clean up rough feed. “We have to chew it off in the summer so that it comes away in the autumn again.”

The cows are easy care, just the stud side needs some extra attention and work at calving. On the commercial side, Hereford bulls are sold as service bulls for the dairy market, and the heifers head to China. “There’s been a delay with this because of Covid-19, but it’s well-worth it for as long as it continues.” Their stud numbers are slowly growing, and Jim said if there was demand for the sires, they could grow it. “But for now it’s about demand. We certainly have the scale for up to 300 cows with what we have now, if we were to stop trading cattle.” They have not invested heavily in machinery. Instead they have a team of contractors, agents and suppliers with whom they have built great relationships. After a main focus on production, it will be good to turn a bit more focus to the cosmetics of the farm. Last winter they began planting some trees, including 2ha of natives and 10ha of scattered poplar poles, 850 in total.

“Half the farm had a lack of shelter, and we’re planning on planting twice as many poplar poles this coming winter,” Jim says.

Being part of the ETS scheme is also an additional draw card, although first and foremost they are for shade and shelter.

See the article online here

Debt repayment focus pays off | With Belles On
Debt repayment focus pays off | With Belles On
Debt repayment focus pays off | With Belles On
Debt repayment focus pays off | With Belles On
Debt repayment focus pays off | With Belles On

Running for their future, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, February 2022.

Long-distance running for charity has been a big boost for two young North Canterbury men, Annabelle Latz writes.

The love for the rural sector will always be there for Ben O’Carroll and George Black. These two youngsters know its path can be varied and challenging, demanding mental toughness. This skill is sharpened by tying up their running shoe laces and hitting the road. Last November Ben, 30, who grew up in Waikari in North Canterbury, ran 111km from the Trust Hotel in Cheviot to the Carlton Hotel in Christchurch, raising $25,274 for Movember Foundation. Last June George, 25, who grew up just down the road on a sheep and beef (now dairy) farm in Culverden, ran 100km in his gumboots from The Peaks in Hawarden to Deans Avenue Christchurch, raising $20,655 for the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust. Their efforts left a huge feeling of gratitude and satisfaction.

“It’s all about the mental toughness, the waves you go through, and coming out the other side,” George says. After high school, Ben headed to Lincoln University completing a Diploma in Agriculture. He cut his teeth shepherding at Matukituki Station near Wanaka, with an old huntaway bitch and a two-year old heading dog.

The opportunity to start a scanning business arose when he was 23. “I thought about the money that could be made, and the potential of farm ownership through that,” Ben says. Omihi-based now, BocScan Ultrasound keeps him busy for part of the year, the remaining months spent tailing and crutching for Clean Crutch Contracting all over North Canterbury, Central Otago and Southland, and Southern Sheep Services in Gore. He says farming has so many regulations these days and the price of farms is so high, making it harder or impossible for youngsters to get into ownership.

“Hard graft, business ownership and farm management positions all help, and there’s more families helping younger ones getting into farming, because it’s nearly impossible to do it by yourself.”

Ben enjoys the physical and mental demands of owning his own business, admitting he’s learned a lot in the past eight years. “At 23 I was clueless and didn’t know what I was doing, it was with the help of family members and dad that I got through the early years.” Accuracy is vital because he’s providing farmers with data that will dictate a major part of their annual income. “Lambing percentage wise, this is improving all the time, farmers are investing in getting good feed into their ewes.” To keep on top of things mentally, Ben started running about last April, swapping it for the beers.

“I’ve really enjoyed the mental toughness side of it, getting home from work and putting on my running shoes. It’s made me feel good about myself.”

Movember was approaching, so on November 1 he dedicated the 111km run to this cause. Having dealt with a patch of mental health issues, Ben saw this run as therapy and a way to help others. “I’d been running 50-60km per week, but I’d always wanted to get into ultra distances. I thought it might take a couple of years though.” He admitted people would think he was mad for trying that. “I knew I was mentally tough, I just hoped my body would hold up.” Ben knew he had to start slow, enjoy the good moments, and embrace the tough parts. He was very happy with his run, completing the 111km in a shade over 13 hours. He had company throughout, including George for the second half which was much appreciated when Ben had to dig deep running the final section into Christchurch.

“I got pretty emotional at times and some parts were really tough, but it was incredible and I was on a massive high afterwards.”

Ben has been thanked and congratulated by strangers and friends, many telling him running has helped their motivation and mental health too. “It’s a really amazing feeling to make a difference like that, I feel like a better person for doing it.” George enjoyed being carefree running around on the farm as a kid, but near the end of high school decided to swap the text books for a rasp and toe clips, learning the trade of a farrier. He shod horses for four years which he thoroughly enjoyed, both the precision of the job and the people interaction. During that time his parents bought a 650-hectare farm in Pyramid Valley where they farm beef, dairy cross, and grow grain, to complement the 220ha farm in Culverden where they are now in their ninth year of dairy farming. George’s older brother Ben was the driving force behind the conversion.

The complete in-house farming system ethos excited George, and he saw an opportunity to also be involved, so he bade farewell to shoeing horses and took to the farm.

“That was really cool, I did a fair bit of fencing and development on it when we first moved on, which required precision just like the shoeing.”

They took the farm over in February 2016 and the three-year drought broke a month later in March. Its main use is winter grazing the dairy herd from Culverden and growing out the dairy replacements. They also grow grain and use it as a support block to finish a few beef cross animals out of the dairy herd, and cut and carry feed to the dairy farm. George enjoyed the stock work and the satisfaction of producing well fed animals, but knew he had to make a break financially to set himself up for the future. “I wanted to do my own thing, see how far I could go.”

Almost a year ago George saw an opportunity to move into real estate, joining up with Bayleys in Rangiora.

The money side of things was appealing, to save for a farm in the future and allowing financial freedom now. “I liked the idea of having pressure put on me. It’s challenging, it’s a mental game.” He said similarities with farming include the seven- day-a-week expectation. “It’s sink and swim stuff, there is no fall back.”

Buying and selling in the residential and lifestyle market, George says the people side of things is really enjoyable, as well as networking and learning about another side of the rural sector. “The aim of our Pyramid Valley farm was to be self-sufficient and to cut out agents clipping the ticket buying and selling stock and feed for the dairy farm, so it’s ironic I have become a commission-based agent myself.” He admits the farming ladder is tough, he’s seen a few mates getting into farm ownership through family, but buying one takes some thinking outside of the box.

“Corporate farming is making it harder, and the carbon thing is driving the big farm sales.”

Running has always been a good time for head space for George, who’s run a couple of marathons and appreciates the confidence it gives him to keep pushing through, getting the bad patches and having to carry on. The Rural Support Trust was a group he wanted to support in his gumboot run, particularly after the drought that hit North Canterbury hard in 2021. “It was an awesome thing to do. That level of satisfaction was massive, I was on a high for about three days.”

His footwear of choice worked a treat, and certainly didn’t hold him up. With just a couple of early stomach issues that sorted themselves out, George reached Deans Ave in just over 12 hours. He simply told himself there was no way he was not going to complete it.

“I had a couple of blisters, but they went really well and yes I’m still using them!” He wasn’t expecting the run to relate as well to life as it did, and he was humbled by how much people’s response resonated with his effort. “I think people like the idea that you’ve run 100km. He says a lot of people think they can’t do it, but they can. Ben and George are both looking forward to the next big run, perhaps lifting the distance to 100 miles.

“I’d run 160km in gumboots, but 200km might be stretching it… you’d be asking for trouble wouldn’t you?” George says.

See the article online here

Running for their future, New Zealand | With Belles On
Running for their future, New Zealand | With Belles On

Success down to Kiwi attitude, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, July 2021.

Coming from a farming background, TB testing seemed a logical career move for Mel Brooker. It was back in 2014 and Mel had recently moved to Oxford, North Canterbury, from Hawarden. A change in personal circumstances meant she had to find a new way to make a living for her and her three children. Her new direction came down to good timing, and who she knew.

“It was just chance really. I knew I had to make a change, and one of the TB testers rang me and asked if I’d like to try.”

What followed was an intense training three month module involving written, legal and practical aspects, all under the umbrella of the Ministry of Primary Industries and OSPRI. Mel enjoyed the training because it was hands on. Her first job was with Vetent, who was the contracted TB testing company to OSPRI at the time.

“I’m really blessed to be able to get around the countryside and see some amazing places. Going into Lees Valley brings back fond memories (I had) as a kid.”

Her job has seen changes over the years, from the frequency of testing, to her job role, to what company she is contracted to. Mel is working for AsureQuality now, who has the TB testing contract with OSPRI. Her testing area of North Canterbury runs from north of the Waimakariri River to south of Amberley, and from the Main Divide to the east coast. Lifestyle blocks and high country stations such as the iconic Mt Algidus make up part of Mel’s territory, although she is predominantly dairy farms.

“I enjoy beef farms the most. You get the privilege to visit other people’s lovely properties”

When Mel started testing, farms were monitored annually, now it’s tri-annually. All animals over 12 months old used to be tested, now it’s everything over 24 months. “The frequency of testing works a bit like a dart board, with the risk of TB at the centre – the further out you go, the less risk therefore the less testing required.”

Lifting tails part of the job

Mel is also an assessor, training future TB testers. The assessment method has not changed over the years; The skin test involves putting the left hand under the tail, injecting 0.1ml of tuberculin into the caudal fold of the tail, and returning three days later to see if there is any reaction. A reaction is a lump, which can be the size of a piece of rice to a golf ball. This lump means the cattle beast has a reactor tag inserted into the ear, and 10-30 days later the assessor returns to take a blood test underneath the tail. It’s not unusual for skin tests to return positive, but it’s less rare.

“I’ve never had a positive animal in my area, but have had positive blood tests.”

Mel injects on Mondays and Tuesdays, and reads the tests on Thursdays and Fridays. When dairy sheds are busy she’ll do up to four a week. On average one dairy shed takes four hours, some as big as 1400 cows. She said TB cases are in general tracking downwards in NZ, thanks to vector control with possums, ferrets and stoats, surveillance and robust testing.

“There are still a lot of autopsies being done on possums, and the culling has helped a lot.” Live exporting and farm assurance are other parts of Mel’s job. “Lifting tails is still 90% of my job though.” Compared to other countries, she said NZ is progressing well on the TB front.

“It’s about our good Kiwi attitude, with good systems in place.” 


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Success down to Kiwi attitude | WIth Belles On

Pet mob turn to Pied Piper mode, New Zealand

The Merino Review, December 2021.


IT WAS FRIDAY JULY 16 WHEN Hayley Pitts of Mount Gladstone up the Awatere Valley in Marlborough was at the Howl of a Protest in Blenheim. She knew the weather was turning so as the afternoon rolled on, she decided to head home. Just as well, because if she’d waited much longer she might not have seen the farm for a few days.

“The Awatere River was horrendous, you couldn’t get anywhere and even the little creeks were massive,” Hayley says. It started raining on Friday night and Awatere Valley Road was washed out before sunrise on Saturday. Weather warnings had allowed them the chance to move stock to higher ground, but they never quite expected what was delivered.

“We were thinking it will never happen. But 140 millimetres fell in that first big rain, that was massive.”

Waking up on Saturday, admittedly not getting much sleep as the rain fell hard on the roof, the road and river levels were the worst they’d ever seen, with many holes and slips and damaged culverts. About 20m of road had been washed away, and as soon as conditions allowed they dozed a track around the side of a hill. “We could get through, but it certainly wasn’t State Highway 1,” says her husband Jeremy. A mob of 1200 hoggets needed shifting from the flooded vineyards up the valley to the home block. The 12km trek from where the damaged road allowed stock trucks to reach them taking about five hours, including navigating one big hole in the road, crossing the Hodder Bridge and going past diggers and trucks. Reluctance was obvious, so out came the mob of pet lambs with their son Harry (13), and the Merino hoggets led the way for the skeptical mob. “It was pretty good having the lead lambs, it was very cute too. They’ve certainly earned their bag of pellets,” says Hayley. The weather was still not on their side even at shearing time, so they borrowed the neighbours’ woolshed at Glenlee, which meant having to cross a second big bridge. Once again, Harry used his pets to make this possible. The rain damage may well have been increased by the dry summer and very dry autumn this year, leaving the Pitts family an extensive list of repair jobs. This included a few smashed floodgates that needed fixing or replacing, and plenty of track repair work.

“But on the whole, we came out pretty good. It was school holidays so we put the kids to work, probably not the adventure they had planned,” says Jeremy.

An added stress was accessing sheep they had grazing in a vineyard on the Wairau Bar on the north-eastern side of Blenheim, and were very grateful for the help they received. “Our staff and Wairau Bar locals were a huge help in the clean-up and rescue of the sheep in the flooded vineyard,” says Hayley. It was a similar but two-storm tale of damage for farmers Ross Bowmar and Jess Ensor who live at Redcliffs Station on the south bank of the Rakaia Gorge. On Friday May 28 the rain started to fall. The biggest deluge of 174mm fell between Saturday evening and Sunday evening, with a grand total of 264mm recorded at the house by Monday. It added up to the biggest flood on record. Out the back of the 1935ha farm, creeks were more like rivers. They knew bad weather was on its way, so had stock in position as best they could. But Redcliffs Bridge that runs through the middle of the property was completely buried by shingle, making it impossible to reach some stock and shift break fences, which Ross admits was very stressful.

“We couldn’t feed them, we had to use choppers to fly motorbikes over,” he says, adding that the Merinos were in a state of shock, and struggled to eat any food for about 10 days despite it being put in front of them.

Their condition was knocked back quite significantly and in October they were still a bit lighter than they’d normally be. “As my father-in-law (Willy Ensor) said, it’s not the year to be criticising people for their stock condition.”

Ross said this storm was just “one of those things that has never happened before” and a buried bridge was certainly never part of their farm management plan.

It took a week or so to get the bridge open again, thanks to the work of a good local contractor and the district council. In mid July when the second storm hit, TB testing had just started and the bridge was buried again, only taking 12 hours of rain for the shingle to do its damage this time because conditions were still wet from May. It was another four days before this could be opened again, a major access point for all supplies to the farm.

“Back in 1983 when it was built it was root raked for four to five metres of clearance. Now it’s back to one metre.”

In the May storm, their hydropower system built in 1983 was also buried and destroyed when the pen stock pipe was knocked out of alignment and buried under six metres of shingle. They could see the rain on its way, so sealed the pipe at the top, but it was buried by material backing up from the bridge which acted like a dam. Before fixing it, they were in the process of moving the hydro shed to a less flood-prone area, when they received another 156mm in the flood in July. “We had just dug everything out, then it all got buried again.” Ross says for that reason, the July flood was almost harder, even though it wasn’t as severe. “After the May flood, we carried on ourselves, but the July flood was harder to handle. Who would have thought it would happen again.”

The new hydro pipes are polyethylene, and buried deeper than the original 2.4m concrete pipes. At the beginning of October it was almost ready to go, which was a relief, after living off a diesel generator since the first storm with a running cost of $100/ day. Repair work also included fixing turbines, intake structures and investing in underground power lines in places. Fixing fences and flood gates was also a massive job, as was clearing the creek that got into the silage pit. Creating a resilient operation to future proof for flood events is top of mind, spending a bit more now to help down the track. “It’s not this never-ending list. I know the rebuild will come to an end, it may take us a year, but it is not forever…we’ve just got to chip away, that’s all we can do.”

They brought in extra labour, some thanks to local Facebook pages and job seekers relocating due to Covid-19. This helped significantly, as did the assistance from the local Federated Farmers, Rural Support Trust and Flood Recovery group.

“Every farmer has a ‘to-do’ list, but then it becomes extraordinarily big. It’s good to get it out on a bit of paper so it all becomes more digestible.”

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Pet mob turn to Pied Piper | With Belles On mode
Pet mob turn to Pied Piper | With Belles On mode