Knauf Agriculture Academy

September 2010

Knauf Farm at Tangiwai Station provides education for school leavers

The Knauf family has built up the largest stud Simmental herd in the country at Tangiwai Station; they also host two students from Wairoa Colleges Agriculture Academy on the farm two days a week, and its an arrangement that is working well.

The Knauf family parents Kevin and Colleen - bought Tangiwai Station in 1994, moving down from the King Country to expand their farming business. Jon and his wife Sam came back to the farm in 1997 to work on the property. Jon studied for an agricultural economics degree from Massey University.

Tangiwai Station is 2000ha, with 1500ha effective. It only has 40ha of flats, about 460ha of medium hill and 1000ha of steep hill country. There is 500ha of kanuka regenerating. They also lease 100ha of flats at Iwitea, closer to Wairoa.

Its a challenging environment with extreme rainfall and dry periods. The average rainfall averages 2500mm. In July alone theyve had more than 500mm. Jon says the environment puts a lot of commercial pressure on the animals.

The farm runs 14,500 stock units this year with 60% sheep and 40% cattle, down from 70:30. They are farming 5600 ewes and 2000 hoggets which are lambed.

The sheep are Romdales, a mix of Romney and Perendales. They get 130% lambing with the hoggets lambing at 50-60%. Weaning weights arent as high as Jon would like because October and November are dry months.

Its good farming here from January to May, and then it is a challenge between cold and wet and getting dry.

There are 560 cows, all recorded Simmentals. Bulls that arent sold are finished before their second winter. Surplus heifers are a flexible mob which are sold at any time.

Some of the bull calves are steered and sold as weaners or carried through to 18 months depending on the market and feed.

Their cattle business began with some stud South Devon cows. Jons sister wanted some Simmentals as well, so Kevin bought a couple for her.

They found they needed big numbers and culling pressure on the stud animals to achieve their goals.

In 2006 they bought two of the most commercially focused herds in the country: 240 cows from the Ailsa stud at Ohingaiti and 120 cows from the Rissington Simmental herd.

We took the opportunity and became committed to it.

They have always recorded their commercial cows before that.

Now they have the largest Simmental herd in the country, and there are three other herds above the 160 cow mark, including a Landcorp herd, and most of the other NZ herds have less than 100 recorded cows.

Our objective is to breed cattle to perform in the commercial environment and deliver profit to us and our clients.

We chose Simmentals because of their dual purpose performance: both maternal and terminal. They had been the most productive of the crossbred cows we had here.

They now have 560 cows, all of which are recorded, and this is a stable number.

They sell bulls at a sale at Kimbolton, where Alistair and Kay Milne have a satellite farm. We send a selection of 60 bull calves there after the sale, and they grow them for a year, and we auction 35 to 40 bulls there.

They also sell yearling bulls in the paddock both at Milnes and at their home property, and two year olds in the paddock at home.

Each year they sell about 70 bulls over the whole range of selling types.

The stud is focused on performance from the cattle: they have to be able to perform in commercial environments, and they use proven science and technology.

Estimated Breed Values are an important tool; Jon uses AI for inseminating the cows also, and vet Neil Sanderson has carried out embryo transplant work for them for the past two years, and this is working well.

Getting to their targets is a work in progress, Jon says. You only get to where you want to go if you are headed there and you have to set the bar high enough.

We are trying to farm in a commercial environment; we are not in the feeding game. We are trying to breed genetics that will prosper in a testing landscape.

They call the stud Kerrah after Jons sisters Kerrin and Sarah.

Jons brother Daniel is also involved in the farm, doing the general work while Jon and his Kevin run the stud together.

Brian Simpson is the principal of Wairoa College, the local high school, which set up an Agriculture Academy in 2009.

He says there has been quite a long history of discussions in Wairoa about setting up an agricultural training facility in the district. I guess we got a bit impatient, and we look at the topic from a school-specific point of view.

We didnt have agriculture in our curriculum because we didnt have a teacher, so some students went off to other schools to study agriculture.

Theres a particular skill shortage in the Wairoa area, but agriculture is an important part of the economy. We put that all together, with the support of farmers and a partnership with the Eastern Institute of Technology (the Napier-based polytech) to set up a course giving the theory, with the farmers giving the practical part.

Now we have a teacher and another person who does farm placements. EIT provides us with the certificate in agriculture level 2.

We have students in for three days; out for two. They are getting that qualification and hands-on farm experience. Hopefully we are helping them see potential careers in agriculture.

We want to see them moving into employment when they are old enough to leave school or move onto a tertiary qualification and doing further training.

Its objective is to provide a real live learning context.

The Academy is for year 11, 12 and 13 students. Last year we had 22; this year 20 students.

At the end of last year we commissioned a review: it got very positive endorsement from the kids. It is not perfect; we are still thinking things through. Most of the kids are doing things well; a few dropped out and found it was not for them.

Some of our students who wouldnt be successful in traditional mainstream things are seeing that their learning is taking them somewhere.

We dont make loose claims about the course, but overall it is an excellent thing for the College.

The students spend Thursday and Friday on the farm, unless they are doing another course such as their drivers licence.

They come out on the school bus, and then work until about 2pm, when they are picked up.

Jon says its rewarding having them on the farm. They have to do all the tasks under supervision.

It gives them hands on learning and helps them back in the classroom. They can see how their class work applies on the farm.

We try and make it applicable with feed budgeting and dose rates, doing calculations to highlight the importance of class work out on the farm.

We had some students last year. It has been a learning curve for both farmers and the college, we have come a long way.

Now we know what they are learning at school. The first year was a stab in the dark for everybody. Now we have to keep planned and fit the jobs a little bit around when the boys are coming, and the tasks that they need ticking off.

We try and have it so one boy might go fencing with Daniel, and one might come and do the stock work with me, and then we swap over so it is one:one tuition.

The two boys we have this year have made really good progress. It is quite rewarding to see them get their credits. It has been good.

The school has certainly tried hard; its one of the first in the country.