Lamb Finishing and Arable Farming

August 2015

Mick and Karen Williams won the 2013 BFEA Awards for the Greater Wellington Area

Mick and Karen Williams were the 2013 supreme winners of the Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards, where the judges described the 224ha arable and livestock finishing farm business as “an outstanding farm run by an inspirational young couple.”

Ahiaruhe Farm is almost all flat, alluvial river silt soils on the east bank of the Ruamahanga River, between Carteron and Gladstone. Up to 200ha is cropped each year and after harvest, lambs and young cattle are finished on annual ryegrass and crop residues.

Mick and his father Jim and his brother Nathan were in a family farming partnership from 1999 when the first farm of 64ha was purchased at Ahiaruhe. Further adjoining farms were added in the mid-2000s and then Mick and Karen purchased outright and began farming on their own account in 2009, followed by a smaller further neighbouring purchase in 2012. The farm is now 224ha, 215ha effective, almost all of which is annually cropped.

They also have a 2ha QE II Trust covenant over 2ha of generating native bush from which livestock have been excluded for 10 years, containing matai, totara and titoki. Exposed edges have been planted with manuka and kanuka to be a windbreak for other plantings. Riparian zones on streams and smaller waterways have been created and planted and are now tended to control weeds and pests. Willows have been cut out and replaced with natives, however the past dry summer meant about half of the native plantings died. The arable soils are two types – Greytown silt loam and Ahikouka silt loam. Another zone close to the Ruamahunga River is too stony for cropping. The farm now has 2.8km of boundary on the Ruamahunga which can and has flooded the farm. Local government looks after the Ruamahunga riparian zone.

Ravensdown does nutrient management plans for the soil types every three years, which also discloses that only 12kg/ha/yr of nitrogen is leaching out. Soil testing shows 5.8 to 6.2 pH and Olsen P readings from 20s to mid-40s. Phosphate is used for the cropping at the rate of 250-300kg/ha of Cropmaster 15. Special crops may require fertiliser additives or blends. Nitrophoska 12-10-10 is sometimes used. The Cross-Slot drill delivers fertiliser into the root zone alongside of the seed. Prior to planting a deep N test is conducted at 30cm depth and provides analysis results that may be low after previous cereals (under 20 N) or higher under other crops, informing the need for nitrogen that growing season.

Ahiaruhe Farm has 150ha reticulated for irrigation, with underground pipes and water hydrants feeding two relocatable irrigator guns. A cereal crop will receive about 100mm of irrigation water during growing, in three or four watering episodes. In a wetter growing season much less irrigation is required. Two soil moisture probes report back wirelessly to a website where Mick and Karen can monitor water demand. Water comes from a groundwater bore with one consent of 43 litres/sec. Further consents may be utilised in the future.

Up to 200ha of land is cropped annually. Spring sown and late summer/autumn harvested. The crops include barley, wheat, ryegrass, peas and red clover and maize, onion, lettuce, coriander, carrot, celery and chard grown for seed.   About 60% of arable area is barley, which can be repeated three times before another crop should be sown on that paddock in the rotation. The alternatives depend on what contract offers are received from seed companies.

Paddocks go back into annual ryegrass or forage rape for winter finishing of up to 5000 lambs, bought in during April/May and marketed before the ryegrass is sprayed out in spring. Wheat, barley and peas and then the other seed crops are planted through the litter of grass, straw and weeds by the Cross-Slot drill over three months. Yields for barley and wheat are between 6 and 10.5tonnes/ha.

The Williams purchase store lambs during April/May and take them through the winter on ryegrass and forage rape. They are sold to Cabernet Foods, owned by third-generation meat retailers from the Everton family, and all lamb meat goes on the domestic market, restaurants and Foodstuffs supermarkets.

Some 100 to 125 weaner bulls are purchased in late October and taken through for sale before their second winter. This past season they were gone before Christmas at about 15-16 months of age.

Ahiaruhe Farm has a privately-owned Cross-Slot, the revolutionary no-tillage drill developed by Dr John Baker in New Zealand and now used around the world. Jim Williams purchased the first model back in 1998 and both Mick and his brother Nathan each have one. The farm has John Deere tractors, three-point linkage, PTO-mounted 1250litre sprayer with 18.5m boom width, and a fertiliser spreader. It also has a Claas Lexicon combine harvester with yield mapping, which runs on crawler tracks, which delivers 66% less ground pressure than wheeled machines. It was purchased to minimise compaction to the soils.

Mick and staff members do all their own combining and a similar area on other farms.

Mick and Karen’s philosophy is they believe they live and work in a really special place and that they have a responsibility to look after it. “Whilst our vision is to grow a successful business, this will be achieved while maintaining the high quality of our soils, improving the quality of freshwater and through continued habitat enhancement. We wish to undertake our farming business in a happy and rewarding environment, for ourselves, our family and staff, and to foster good relationships with contractors, neighbours and the community. We hope our children will continue this philosophy in the future.”