Dalrymples at Waitatapia Station

August 2007
Waitatapia Station is a large scale arable and drystock farm run by two brothers, Hew and Roger Dalrymple. Between them they are using the best of conventional and innovative farming practices to run a diverse farming operation in a profitable and sustainable way. They are the 2007 supreme winners of Ballance Farm Environment Awards for the Horizons region.

Waitatapa was brought by John Dalrymple, Hew and Rogers grandfather, in 1880. It was taken over by Hew and Rogers father in 1954. The property is 2610 hectares. It is split in five separate blocks. 1500 ha in pasture, 652ha in cropping and 400ha in forestry. The balance is in lakes, wetlands and a comprehensive laneway system. The work load is divided between arable (Hew) and the drystock (Roger).

The property has an extremely vulnerable soil type, prone to erosion which is a big driver for the way they farm. No tilling drilling or direct drilling is standard because of the potential damage to the soil caused by conventional tilling methods. Theres been no plough on the property for 15 years.

Strip tillage, fertigation and GPS guided gear is also heavily used as is soil and yield mapping. Theyve learnt the importance of subdividing paddocks to match differences in soil type and farm accordingly.

The Dalrymples have an arrangement with a nearby poultry farmer in return for feed maize grown on the farm they received chicken manure. The manure is used to give the sandy soils some backbone, but its application has to be carefully managed to make sure nutrient levels don't go into overload. They regularly soil test.

Hew Dalrymple does say that the sandy soil has its advantages. It is a perfect seed-growing medium, it is warm, attracts heat and crops are easily established. It also means they can be keep relatively disease free.

Stock policy is geared towards the summer dry conditions. They target to the shoulders of the killing season. Roughly 35,000 lambs arrive on the property over a year and up to 3000 steers are also traded. The steers are kept on a feed pad for the winter and then used to graze surplus grass in the spring.

Roger struggled for over 10 years trying to run a breeding flock through dry summers. They tried Finn genetics, which lifted lambing to 180% , but they still didnt think they were getting the best out of the property. That, and the annual struggle with facial eczema and fly strike over the summer led to the change in stock policy.

Tetraploid annual grasses are direct drilled into paddocks once squash and maize crops are harvested.

The annual grasses have brought big production jumps and Roger is now looking to introduce electronic ear tag on the steers. Hes keen to use this technology to record growth rates and work out mob sizes based on weight range, breed and feeding regimes. They are also keen to see the tags being used to get feed back from the meat companies after slaughter.

Roger is working closely with animal health specialists to establish some systems to avoid drench resistance. With such big volumes of lambs going through the property each year they are very vulnerable to animal health problems.

Last spring there were 850 four-day-old bobby claves reared on the property using cows milked on the property.

Maize is the main crop covering about 250 ha each year. Squash, spuds, onions and wheat are harvested on the other 300ha.

One of the advantages of the location is a ready source of water. It comes from an artesian bore pumped to tanks that feed stock troughs, and an aquifer that feeds seven traveling irrigators. Irrigation has opened up opportunities for maize and squash at times of the year that previously werent possible.

When their dad took over Waitatapia it was covered in manuka and gorse, with a few badly drained paddocks supporting around 200 ewes and 300 cows.

Their father cleared a lot of scrub, drained paddocks and started introducing crops. When Hew and Roger took over in the mid 1980s they started fencing off ridges and planting them in pines.

Aside from the obvious advantages of soil stabilization, shade and shelter, the pines have offered a little bit of income when times are tough.

An extensive laneway system has opened up the farm and the brothers have also invested in a reticulated stock water system.

Hew and Roger say the division of work between arable and livestock is something that grew out of what they were interested in. They say the key to working well together is keeping their day to day operations separate. They confer on big decisions and say they best option is usually so obvious theres no argument. They say that financially it make sense to stay farming together. There is also a clear attachment to the land and a bit of a proud family tradition.

Planning for the next generation is a little trickier. Roger has three girls 15 through to 9. Hew has one son Benjamin who is 11. The kids are too young to decide on a farming career just yet but their dads are already planning for a possible break-up of the farm business into economic units. In the past three years they've bought two other farms nearby and are bringing them into the cropping and livestock operations.

Aside from a range of good works on the farm - wetlands, forestry, wide laneway to avoid compaction, heavy use of monitoring of soil and nutrient levels theyve also been looking at using their maize waste to supply electricity. The idea is to set up a biogas plant. Theyve been told that 500ha of waste could produce up to a megawatt of power - and still be used at the end of the process to put back on the farm as fertiliser.