2008 Hill Country Farmer of the Year

March 2009

A low cost business with a DIY attitude proves a winning strategy

In 2008 Grant and Kerry won the Federated Farmers Gisborne/Wairoa Hill Country Farmer of the Year competition. They have a low-cost business and a healthy do-it-yourself attitude, with consistently good returns. They have a good return on capital and have managed to pay off a lot of debt while educating their three daughters through boarding school. Their farm is considered a good model for other farmers to look at. Grant’s motto is: “We don’t buggerise around too much.”

Grant and Kerry have been on the family farm for 15 years and owned it for the past five years.

Their farming philosophy:

1. Making money (bankable profits) while improving the asset

2. working smarter not harder (just being a miserable bugger)

3. reducing debt: there is no point in working for someone else

If you are not doing that then you may as well stay in bed or work for someone else, Grant says.

• Sheep and beef, 592ha, with 580ha effective (98%); medium hills, no flats to speak of

• Only 300m of natural running water, so they have deep dams in each paddock

• 2400 ewes – moved from composites to facial eczema tolerant Coopworths in the last year because of facial eczema problems, and 1650 ewe lambs

• Cattle policy is around a herd of 175 cows, 115 rising two year heifers and 100 yearling heifers.

• Stocking rate averages 10.9/ha

• Facial eczema has been a real problem in the past year – and this problem was quite widespread throughout Gisborne

• No shearing at weaning for the lambs, which is unusual. “Lambs are here to grow, not to lose weight.” This is a cost-effective measure.

• They do their own crutching with the Racewell crush (which also is a weighing and drafting system).

• Ewe hoggets are mated; with the 120 biggest ram lambs left entire at docking for mating to the hoggets; then killed later. This also saves money

• Lambing starts in the last week of August, which ties in with docking when the girls are home from school.

• Lambing percentages usually more than 140% except for last year with facial eczema

• Also bought 400 ewes scanned in lamb for twins at $61 to make up for the losses and having to cull a bit harder, a real opportunity there, they were dirt cheap

• (A million ewes displaced last year with dairying and such widespread dry last year no-one was interested in sheep. Those ewes really should have been $100.)

• In a normal year they draft 600 lambs off their mothers.

• The cattle policy is using hybrid vigor to the maximum, with the cows crossed to Angus sires and the 18 month heifers mated to a Jersey bull.

• All the male progeny are left entire and finished as rising two year olds

• This is one of the farm’s biggest profit drivers.

• In an average year the top third of bulls are killed in June and July and the rest carried into spring, and killed before Christmas when it gets too hot and they stop growing.

• Heifer mating and understanding bull growth rates is a strength of their business which has given them average cattle returns of $60.85/cattle stock unit in the last three years. This is higher than the top 10% in the AgFirst Gisborne database.

• Last year the wind blew the roof off their fertiliser bin so they spent the fertiliser budget on rebuilding a new bin which cost $33,000. It was an epic job.

• Doesn’t like using nitrogen and says he prefers to use phosphorus to make the clover grow.

• They do their own fencing (just bought a new bulldozer)

• Most of their costs are lower than the district average; they have tight control of expenses.

Father Warwick, and Bob and Mary Wall who Grant managed for years ago. Other people influenced me but mostly on how not to do things.

Grant and Kerry have always farmed together, but she now has arthritis, which means she can’t do so much work on the farm.

So they are thinking about working in with AgriVenture IAEA people to get people from overseas to help on the farm. Grant went on this years ago, and thinks it would help so Kerry didn’t have to do any of the physical work on the farm.

She still does all the bookwork, the grounds and the endless girly organizing stuff, Grant says.

When they won the Farmer of the Year last year they averaged an economic farm surplus of $355/ha for the past three years. They have paid off $100,000 in debt each year. And their gross income is $710/ha over the past three years.

“I consider reducing debt to be growing the business; it gives you a bigger share of the pie.”

Grant recently heard Peter Andrew, an AgFirst consultant from Gisborne say that taking into account wages of management and debt servicing a lot of people are running at a loss. But some guys are still doing really well.

EFS is very often dependent on the weather. If we know what the weather was going to do you could set targets.

There are guys who are too conservative, always farming for the dry. We don’t get that many dry years, and when it comes to the good ones they can’t utilize them.

While a lot of people are very down in the mouth Grant is very positive about the future. “It’s probably just an attitude thing.”

There are some pretty good positives: interest rates coming down, you can get money pretty blood cheap now; maybe it’s time to move and get a bit bigger.

The Hill Country Farmer of the Year  increased our profile and opened doors; I was asked to speak at things, and people ask your opinions a bit; it’s a two-way street; talked at Meat and Wool meetings in Central Hawke’s Bay about keeping positive in hard times – it was all good.