Blue Read and Fonterra

June 2015

Blue Read is a dairy farmer who has been involved with Fonterra since its inception

Fonterra director Blue Read and his wife Shirley have farmed a small coastal Taranaki dairy farm for the past 26 years, introducing many conservation measures to combat coastal erosion, regenerate native bush and plant riparian strips along waterways.

Blue and Shirley have a 80ha farm plus 12ha leased land, with an effective 62ha milking platform for 200 Jersey cows, a stocking rate of just over 3 cows/ha. The balance of the farm is about 12ha retired and the rest dry stock grazing.

The small dairying district of Pukearuhe Rd is on the coast just north of Mimi, itself a few kilometres north of Urenui on State Highway 3 between New Plymouth and Te Kuiti.  The farm is 40km from New Plymouth in North Taranaki.  Pukearuhe Rd goes north to Wai-iti, and the White Cliffs Walkway, between Pukearuhe in the south and Tongaporutu in the north.  The most notable geographical feature of the district are the cliffs overlooking the Tasman Sea.

The Read farm includes 1.4km of the cliff top which ranges up to 50m above sea level.  There is also access down to the beach.  When purchasing the property 26 years ago, the Reads knew that some of the cliff edges were eroding and for stock safety and sand dune stabilisation, a riparian zone had to be fenced off and planted with flaxes, toi toi, pohutukawas and banksias.  This is now well-established and doing its job.

Big storms and massive seas are a feature of the district, along with plenty of wind.

The Reads can feel the ground shaking when big waves hit the shore and salt spray and foam covers the seaside paddocks.  Ingestion of salty and foam-covered pasture can lead to diarrhoea in the cows, so they need to be grazed inland for a short period.

The herd has been once-a-day milking for the past decade and it produced 54,000kg milksolids in the 2013-14 dry season, followed by 60,000kg (300/cow) already this season (mid-March).

Between 30 and 40 tonnes of palm kernel will be fed.  The herd BW is 149 and the PW is 165.

The Reads have a contract milker (effectively a farm manager), local woman Julia Lee, who has been OAD milking beginning at 5am for the past two years. Blue likes to help when he is at home and to provide Julia with some days off.

The breeding is LIC Jersey bull of the day with standard timing for mating and calving, which starts around July 20-25.  The Reads remember only three really dry seasons in the 30-plus years they have dairy farmed in North Taranaki, including last summer.  They hang on well in the late summer and autumn despite a large part of the farm being sand, because they do not over-stock and do not eat everything down to ground level in the spring/summer.

Riparian retirement is extensive on the Read’s farm along streams that either feed to the coast directly or inland to the Mimi River, including an 800m length of the river bank itself.  In total length they would measure between 3 and 4km and vary in width from 2-3m up to 30-50m depending on terrain.  Some are now well planted with a variety of indigenous plants provided by the Taranaki Regional Council and some of the smaller ephemeral streams have not be planted yet, although all livestock access is fenced off.

Taranaki has one of the best provincial records in stream fencing by dairy farmers, despite hundreds of streams and difficult terrain.  TRC chairman is fellow Fonterra director David MacLeod.  Blue Read said in some places he has fenced off and retired stream banks while on the opposite side the sheep and beef farm has not.  “But just because others do not do it doesn’t mean that we don’t take it seriously.”

Blue Read’s political life began with the Sharemilkers Association of Federated Farmers, following on to election as a Fonterra Shareholders Councillor from the formation of the FSC in 2001.  He served four years as deputy chairman and three years as chairman, standing down in 2010.  He was elected to the board in 2012 and will face election again this year on the completion of his first three-year term.  Blue has previously been chairman of Cooperative Business New Zealand, Taranaki Dairy Section of Federated Farmers and chairman of the New Zealand Sharemilkers Association.

He said the time requirement for the Fonterra board position was “whatever is required” and that he needs to keep up with events, reports and farmers’ opinions to do the job effectively.  “However, we are in the governance role to do the best by Fonterra’s historical values, not farmer opinion at any one time.”