Tarawera Station

July 2009

Silver Fern Farm Hawke's Bay Farmer of the 2009

Carl and Sue Read-Jones won the Silver Fern Farms Hawkes Bay Farmer of the Year recently. They manage Tarawera Station for the Te Awahohonu Forest Trust and are doing a great job in a difficult environment.

Carl and Sue are both townies, and they have made a rapid progression through the farming ranks to win the Silver Fern Farms Hawkes Bay Farmer of the Year competition recently.

The 2623ha farm, on the banks of the Mohaka River 60km from Napier on the road to Taupo, is part of a much larger property owned by the Te Awahohonu Forest Trust, with 20,961ha including 5623ha of production forest.

Tarawera Station manager Carl Read-Jones, 34, ticked all the boxes and offered a complete package across a whole suite of disciplines, Farmer of the Year judge Chris Garland said

Its a challenging property because of its location and topography, but Carl demonstrated a high standard of skills across human resource management, environmental stewardship, use of technology, financial control and governance.

Chris said the farm is a big property at 26,000 stock units. While its one thing to achieve good performance on a scale of 6000 to 7000 stock units, to be doing that at four times the size requires another level of skill in terms of logistics and planning.

He has made good progress in his career, going through Smedley Station at Tikokino, and arriving at Tarawera Station as stock manager in 2001. Then 18 months later he was appointed operations manager.

He and Sue have two girls, Kimberley who is seven and five year old Sophie. Sue previously always commuted to work, but now with the girls at school she has become a major support on the farm.

At Tarawera Carl has a stock manager, two shepherd generals and a fencer general on the team. Its a young crew with three sets of families, and he really enjoys working with them.

Carl didnt think hed have a show winning against the owner-operators in the competition and said he felt a bit shaky on awards night.

Back in 2004 the farm won the East Coast regional final of the Maori Farmer of the Year.

Its a breeding property mainly, and production levels have lifted - Carls main goal is to maximize farm profitability.

The farm has 14,500 ewes, 4000 ewe lambs, 670 cows and 200 first calvers. There are quite a few trading stock: 380 weaner bulls, 360 weaner heifers and 150 rising two year heifers which are traded.

Pasture management is an important focus on the farm, and so is keeping fertility levels high. The farm has a good fertility status, and fertiliser is one of the first things to go into the budget each year. This means winters get shorter and the growing season longer. They feed budget each month, with Carl going around the farm with his stock manager Steve Campbell to measure levels in all the 120 paddocks.

But the drought has kept a lid on numbers, which are back on where they should be at this time of the year: ewe numbers are down 500 and cow numbers might drop 70 to 100 if it doesnt rain soon.

The farm grows around 8-9tDM/ha but last year it grew only 6.5tDry matter.

And this year the drought is worse than last year.

The rainfall historically has averaged 1400 to 1600mm but since Carl arrived in 2001 they have never had more than 1100mm. At critical times when theyve needed rain this year it hasnt come.

He is careful to protect the farms pasture levels, and makes sure trading stock is gone early.

These are another two challenges for the farm: TB is part of farming in this district, and with only one or two cattle testing for TB out of 2000, it is very frustrating, Carl says. Possum numbers are very low now too. The TB means they have to finish all their cattle, with none brought in.

Rabbits are a real pest, with about 1000ha infested, and they are certainly not helping in the drought. Up to 20,000 rabbits have been shot on the farm in the past two years.

Carl is working to a comprehensive environmental plan for the farm, and has fenced almost all the riparian areas about 1km is left to fence. All the bush on the farm has been fenced out too.

The Te Awahohonu Forest Trust, even though it is the owner, has only farmed Tarawera Station for just over 20 years.

Discussions between elders and the Maori Affairs Department to develop some of the land into a farm began in 1960, and in 1965 the Lands and Survey Department took over and began developing it.

It was only in 1987 that the Station was handed back to the Trust, along with $560,000 of debt. Since then the farm has improved in productivity and profitability, particularly since 1995.

The Trust is targeting between $300 and $350/ha economic farm surplus, and is still some way off that. In the 2005/6 year it made $204/ha, in 2006/7 $213/ha and in 2007/8 $145/ha.

They cant sell the land, or mortgage it either. They have to take a very long term view of how to manage it for future generations.

They would like to add extra land for finishing because Tarawera is essentially a breeding property.

Bob says theyre very fortunate to have Carl Read-Jones as their operations manager, as his ability and capability help de-risk the property in difficult seasons like the current one.

Their next big project is developing a neighbouring lease block of 405ha and in the next five years will spend $300,000 to $400,000 on it. In return the owners of this land are taking a rent holiday to allow us to invest that capital.

They pay a commercial dividend in cash to the owners, and a social dividend, which includes contributions to the local Marae and education grants of $30,000 a year to 18 students at tertiary level but none are yet training in agriculture or forestry.