Paul McGill Young Farmer

June 2011

Profile of a member of the New Zealand Young Farmers organisation

Young Farmers finalist, AGMARDT student, Kelloggs leadership member, Nuffield scholar; Wairarapa farmer Paul McGill has a pretty impressive CV – and by many accounts a good future in the industry.

Paul hails from South Canterbury farming stock, but grew up in Masterton. His interest in agriculture was awakened in the fourth form at Wairarapa College when his father bought land for viticulture and Paul and a friend were able to sharefarm some stock.

After leaving school and getting a year’s sheep and beef farming experience he headed to Lincoln for a Diploma in Farm Management – (Prof Derrick Moot was a big influence).

Paul says his passion was for livestock – but his teachers made him see that it all starts with the plants. That understanding has given him the courage to move from hill country to dairy farming and now to flat land lamb finishing and cropping.

After Lincoln, Paul worked on a Wairarapa hill-country farm at Matahiwi before a season on a friend’s family’s dairy farm.

The next opportunity arose when Paul was offered an operations manager’s role – basically running a 350ha farm.

Paul is an advisory member of his local Wairarapa Young Farmers Club and has the job of convening the Young Farmers Grand Final in Masterton this year. The competition runs from June 29 to July 2.

Paul credits Young Farmers with giving him a good start and lots of skills. He says he was a relatively shy and quiet young man before joining the organisation. He worked his way through the ranks of YFC, attending training courses, holding office, entering competitions and learning important skills like public speaking.

Paul was fourth in the grand final in 2003. He was awarded a $5000 travel grant through the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) and opted to travel through UK and Ireland for four months in 2004, looking at the use of nitrogen in farming systems, an interest piqued by AgResearch work using nitrogen on hill country.

Later the same year he travelled to the US to look at the Atkins Ranch lamb marketing operation.

Paul competed again in Young Farmers – getting second in 2005.

Paul manages a 380ha mixed cropping and lamb finishing farm at Mayfield. The farm has its fingers in many sectors – sheep and beef, the seed industry and as a supplier of feed to the pork and dairy industries.

Farm owners Jim and Lois Reynolds have encouraged him during the past six years to try different approaches on the property as well as encouraging him in his off-farm activities.

The successful partnership between the fifth-generation owners and Paul as manager was recognised in 2008 when Mayfield won the Wairarapa Farm Business of the Year Award.

The property finishes 6000-7000 winter lambs each year and balances that with growing peas and ryegrass for seed, then the winter wheat and malting barley cereal crops.

The silt loam over clay base soils are challenging in the Wairarapa’s dry summer and wet winters. Returns have been consistent with gross farm revenue around $1450/ha despite the droughts and market volatility, a testament to Paul’s willingness to try new things.

All crops on the farm have been direct drilled with a Cross Slot drill since 2001 which allows a quick transition time from pastures to crop phases and ensures better moisture retention and improved soil structure.

Using nitrogen more effectively is important. Seed peas in the cropping system also fix extra nitrogen into the soil, boosting the following crop.

After a tough 2007/08 summer trying to finish lambs on March sown pasture Paul went overseas to look at northern hemisphere systems.

He was impressed by autumn-sown crops in England, and introduced a winter cropping programme of autumn-sown feed wheat and barley – which is not a traditional cropping practice on the Wairarapa’s heavy winter soils.

The crops grow well and have meant Paul can spread the workload at sowing and harvest. They’ve also dropped the dairy cattle grazing component from the system. Cows were hard on the soil structure in winter.

Paul has increased his profits by using on-farm grain storage and producing off-season heavy lambs for Lean Meats.

Paul applied for a 2010 Nuffield scholarship. He chose to study water and irrigation issues. He spent a week at the Contemporary Scholars’ conference in the US focusing on leadership, policy and government, followed by a four month study tour.

In Australia in May he looked at the water scarcity and usage issues facing the Murray-Darling Basin. Six weeks in the UK and Ireland followed on his personal project, delving into water quality and catchment management systems, regulations and controls.

New Zealand sits in the middle of the water debate, Paul says. “We haven’t yet seen the scarcity and water use pressure felt in Australia and we are only just starting to feel the environmental pressures around water quality and catchment management that are felt in UK and Europe, where agriculture and urbanisation are much more intensive and effluent treatment and water quality are more heavily regulated”.

He is a member of the Wairarapa Regional Irrigation Trust – a team whose aim is to develop a storage-based regional irrigation scheme harnessing the high rainfall off the Tararua Ranges to irrigate up to 30,000ha of Wairarapa farmland.

Mentor and former AGMARDT chairman Sam Robinson encouraged Paul to take on the Kelloggs Rural Leadership course in 2006. He completed his project looking at nitrogen use on the local scene in 2007. He maintains good mentoring relationships with some senior farming figures.

Paul doesn’t see farm ownership as a personal goal but there is an opportunity to get financially involved in the trading company he manages for Mayfield farm.

Paul sees a need for NZ to increase the arable area for growing more food, growing seeds and producing animal food for other sectors. The future will not be all about food because there are other pressures on land use – for carbon, biodiversity and urban growth.