Glazebrook Te Tua Station

May 2009

Glazebrook Te Tua Station

Hawke’s Bay farmer Mike Glazebrook is focusing on sustainable farming of soil and water, with the biggest dam in the Bay and a commercial composting business. Andrew Curtis from the Regional Council will use Mike’s dam as an example of water storage they want to see developed throughout the Bay.

Mike has been farming since he left university in 1983, except for almost a year overseas. He first went shepherding next door at Washpool. He started farming on his own account in the mid 1980s, mainly fattening lambs and cattle. In 1987 when fat lamb prices dropped to $14/each we couldn’t make the farm pay, which is why we tried many different things: goats, deer, rearing calves, everything, looking for something that actually worked that could make the farm a modest return. We grew chemical free squash for Japan for a couple of years, and had the first certified organic squash in 1990. Then there was trouble with the Japanese who fumigated the squash on arrival and put the organic certification at risk. Importers weren’t prepared to take the risk then. We grew organic squash for 14 years before we stopped. A few things about organics are not the best for our soil types.

We are using the best of both types of farming – organic and conventional by using compost and doing things which are good for our soil, but we use Roundup instead of rotary hoes to kill pasture before we put in crops, and then use strip tillage, which is far easier on the soil than cultivation, which is required for organic production.

We are trying to preserve carbon in our soils, which are reasonably shallow. We have about 700ha of freehold land here at Te Tua, but that includes the vineyard which is leased out.

We first started making compost 15 years ago with rotten squash from Bostocks. We made a big long compost pile out of the squash. It was very much a learning exercise and it worked quite well. McCains had a lot of sweetcorn, and we used wood shavings, and apple pomace.

Then we got our site properly consented, and got involved in commercial composting, and took over an operation and got it going.

Landfill charges kept going up, and the council was a lot stricter about what could be dumped, so we provided a solution for these people to the point where we outgrew our site and opened a site at Awatoto.

We probably use 20% of the compost ourselves on the farm. Other main buyers are organic apple orchards which take 10,000 to 12,000 cubic metres, landscape centres, and growers such as Scott Lawson. Vineyards, kiwifruit growers, melon growers and anyone growing high value crops.

We use it on our cropping paddocks at a rate of 20 cubic meters per ha once a year. That’s about 8-10 tonnes a ha. We use a commercial spreader.

Proper objective trials are such an exercise we haven’t done that, but there have been a huge number of trials done with compost and vegetable production and growing crops, with a huge range of results.

None were negative but vary from no measured response to very strong measured responses.

We can’t see a dramatic increase in organic matter, but I know our crops just seem to do well when we put it on. This is only anecdotal evidence but we can see where we have put it on and where we haven’t in the difference in the crops.

Benefits include better water holding capacity, increased organic matter, returning nutrients and food energy into the soil, keeping humus and humic material in the soil which is a very stable aggregate and valuable for holding the soil together. Really only doing Mother Nature’s job in a more environmentally acceptable way.

The other thing is that it encourages earthworms, which are the ultimate composter in terms of gluing soil aggregates together.

Even though most NZ soils have got lots of organic matter built into them over hundreds of years, every time we cultivate there is major carbon loss. Inevitably organic matter is declining on intensively cropped soils.

WE have 250ha of cropping soils and grow sweetcorn and maize, and then winter grasses. This is the first time we have grown maize. We will probably go back and grow squash too.

I’m very happy with the dam; in terms of a decision, it rates about 8.5/10.

Sometimes you do a project and everything falls into place. Having decided we wanted to build a dam we had a great site, gravity flow from the Ngaruroro River, comparatively very little to do to build the dam, just a wall and related plumbing.

It has enhanced the view from the house, and provided a huge amount of recreation and amenity value. It’s used for boating and sailing and swimming.

When you grow crops on reasonably light soils, crops like squash get sunburnt and can go from full value to nothing when there is a water ban.

The dam has just given us the confidence to crop the full area knowing we can water them. The vineyard knows it has secure water and water for the overhead frost protection.

We had a water ban a couple of weeks ago, the first for a long time, but we could just carry on.

The dam has six weeks of irrigation, with a total of 450,000 cubic metres, which we irrigate at 200 litres per second.

But it would last at least eight weeks if we rationed it out.

Water bans usually only last for a couple of weeks. Irrigating out of it then dropped it by 500 to 600mm, and it is 3.2m deep.

Two major vineyards take water out for frost protection, and the level of the dam can drop about a metre then. We haven’t really had the event that would test it yet. One of these days we will get one that goes for two months or get three frosts in a row.

I think it is really sensible, if you are growing anything high value, and rely on river water, every now and again you will have water bans. Having some storage for yourself or part of a communal scheme makes a huge amount of sense.

So far we have only needed one to two weeks of water, which would get you through because water bans don’t last for long. It’s not a large amount of water for most people, but just enough to get your crop through.

Only a small part of the water gets used on a seasonal basis, so water harvesting at times of plenty means more people can get access to water, it is the only way we will be able to sustainably grow the irrigation base in Hawke’s Bay.

For the long term I couldn’t think of a more sensible thing to be doing.

Interview with Andrew Curtis: developing water storage

The Regional Council is being quite proactive in exploring all the water storage options. It is also investigating groundwater options, and refining its surface water allocations.

Last July it took a busload of people to Canterbury to look at water issues and problems there, and the Opuha Dam in South Canterbury stuck in people’s minds. The group included Fish and Game, environmental groups, irrigators, and council staff and councilors.

Everyone was quite impressed by that dam and that was the sort of model we would use in Hawke’s Bay. It also opened people’s eyes to what you can achieve and the benefits of public versus private work. With bigger public schemes you can get more environmental benefits such as augmenting river flows.

This dam here (Mike’s) is a big puddle in comparison, at 0.45million cubic metres. The ones we are talking about are 20 to 30 m cubic metres in size.

The Ruataniwha plains are being studied at the moment, and we have Sustainable Farming Fund money for the project, which has identified 15 potential sites. Andrew is managing the project.

Some of these have been ruled out already, and the second part of the project, an economic and environmental analysis and assessment of potential distribution systems, is underway and should be completed by May.

Half the funding for the $60,000 project has come from MAF’s Sustainable Farming Fund, a quarter from the HBRC, and a quarter from 50 landowners in the irrigation community.

Central Hawke’s Bay’s Ruataniwha Plains has about 35,000ha of land which could be irrigated if there was enough water. At the moment only about 6000ha are irrigated, Curtis says.

The Council hopes to start a similar project in the Ngaruroro and upper Karamu catchments too, and hopes for a similar funding package.

Andrew – who is passionate about this – is hoping this work could mean dams might be built within four to five years.