Matthew Truebridge

June 2006
Matthew Truebridge has been in the family contracting business for the past 18 years, centred on Turangi and including Taumarunui. He was planning to buy a farm for long time and missed out when the former owner of his current farm purchased I back in 1996. Then in 2000 the opportunity came to purchase the 300ha (260ha effective) Western Bays property at the same value set on it four years before.

The previous owner, who had other dairying interests, had taken away the ostrich sheds and yards which were feature of the property, because it has been used for large-scale ostrich farming in the early 1990s. One third of the fencing was especially high for ostrich containment.

The farm needed more development work and although Matthew thought he was buying a flat farm he found it needed contouring with a bulldozer to minimise the risk of land erosion and enable use of the Cross-Slot no-till drill. The channels or runs were smoothed over by removing topsoil, filling them in with the underlying pumice and then replacing topsoil, which is a thin covering in the region. Some 200ha of the farm is able to be cultivated.

However most of the farm lies in the moderate to high erosion potential zones of the Lake Taupo Management Plan, and Matthew is keen on minimum tillage for all cropping and regrassing.

Matthew employed Rob Titter as farm manager, because Matthew is not resident on the farm and is fully employed as a farm contractor.

Truebridge Contracting bought a Cross-Slot drill, a NZ machine which delivers no-tilling drilling at precise depths and spacings, conserving soil moisture and placing fertiliser to ensure maximum seed strike and good crop establishment. The business also runs silage and hay making in big bales, buying and selling of fodder, truck and trailer cartage and fertiliser spreading (based at Taumarunui). The new spreader is a Mercedes capable of five tonnes payload, spread over 30m swath, equipped with GPS guidance and mapping software.

The Cross-Slot is very popular with lakeside farmers so as to avoid cultivation and soil and water run-off. However it is in so much demand for autumn sowing that it runs up to 24hrs a day from mid-February to end March.

The heart of Matthews farm development plan is summer cropping, winter cropping and pasture renewal. Native browntop pasture is sprayed in spring and drilled with Winefred rape in November/December. This is used for summer and winter feeding and then resowed with Hunter brassica the following spring. After a second summer of feeding it is resown in autumn with a short-rotation Italian ryegrass. The browntop creeps back into pastures over the following years.

Matthew is convinced that Cross-Slot no tillage is the answer to crop and grass establishment in this environmentally sensitive region. The soils are shallow, fragile and have low water-holding capacity.

Ive been using the Cross-Slot drill on my place the last two years and gained a lot of confidence in it. Even with brassicas, which are finicky to establish around here, its working. That is hugely beneficial to the lake and ground around it.

Matthews farm at Taupo undertakes lamb finishing during winter months, which is unusual for the region. This year he expects to finish 9000 lambs, both home-bred and store stock purchases. They start coming in during December/January and are break-fed on brassicas. The target weights are 38-40kg LW and the first cohort are gone by early winter. Matthew and Rob then buy in a second trade (about 2000 lambs) for winter finishing, killing during September/October. He works very closely with Peter Henderson, PGG Wrightson, Taupo. Matthew keeps a greater proportion of finishing lambs over winter than cattle, because they have a lower nitrate output and soil impact.

He also has 500 ewes which circulate on the more marginal country, leaving the better grazing to the lambs. However the ewes are to be phased out as more country is renovated.

About 400 bulls and steers are finished during the year, with some assistance from 80ha of leased land nearer Turangi. This year he has bought in 100 weaners, 150 yearlings and about 80 big bulls to come in July. All finishing cattle are divided into mobs of about 25 head and run on 3ha paddocks divided into four with hot wires.

The farm income has been mostly trading margins, and profits have been ploughed back into development, along with supplementary assistance from the contracting business.

Mindful of future restraints to farming around the lake, Matthew has devised a farming operation which minimises nitrate output and a development and cultivation system aimed at conservation of the areas fragile, light young soils.

The intake of big bulls is delayed until late winter to avoid exposure to the high leaching period of May to September.

The fertiliser policy is 250-300kg/ha of potash super 15 annually as capital dressing, plus 250-300kg/ha of crop 15 and DAP into the brassicas. Soil fertility is sitting between 20 and 25 Olsen P and 5.7 to 5.8 pH. Light doses of nitrogen are spread during the winter months, trying to avoid ant heavy rain. A total of 60-70kg N/ha would be spread.

The paddocks are been contoured to minimise uncontrolled water run-off down rills or runs, which might carry sediments and nutrients into the lake.

Next on the development plan is retiring some of the marginal areas and stepping up tree and native planting.