Templeton Otaitai Dairies

June 2014

Vaughan and Megan Templeton are high performing dairy farmers both on and off-farm

Vaughan and Megan Templeton are dairy farmers at Otaitai Bush, Riverton. They were the supreme winners of the 2009 Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards. They are continuing to adapt their farming operations, maintaining a strong focus on sustainability in its broadest sense, including the main four areas of environment, economics/profitability, human resources, and heritage and culture. The Templetons are also on a number of boards and committees – Vaughan is a current Fonterra Shareholders Councillor and Megan is on the Client Council at Rabobank and is the Judging Coordinator for the Southland Ballance Farm Awards.

In 2009 the BFEA judges praised the couple’s “excellent knowledge of the challenge they face farming in a sensitive environment and their desire to make a difference to the dairy industry and their community.” In addition to the supreme award, the Templetons also won the LIC Dairy Farm Award, the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award, the Southland BFEA Water Quality Award and the Ballance Nutrient Management Award.

The farm is also home to a museum of national significance. Vaughan’s father Des was instrumental in the restoration of the flax mill, working with the NZ Historic Places Trust to fulfill his vision of creating a working heritage museum. Des was aware he was to be receiving a Queen’s Service Medal for services to flax milling heritage just prior to his death in 2011, which he was awarded posthumously.

Vaughan and Megan farm a 425ha property (400ha effective) east of Riverton in Southland. Vaughan is the fourth generation Templeton to farm the property.

Vaughan says “so Great Grandad came to this property in 1912 to farm flax. There were a lot of flax mills in Southland at that time and he thought he could make profit out of this low-lying, swampy property. Unfortunately the whole industry closed down in 1972 due to cheaper, imported natural fibres so that was the end of flax milling and they converted the farm into an extensive sheep and beef farm.”

There is a series of ditches across the property dug to open up more land for flax. Vaughan says “we’ve got 14kms of open waterways on the farm. We just fenced them off and made the paddocks go around them, which makes a fairly interesting dairy farm and awkward sized paddocks, but nothing’s insurmountable.”

The operation currently consists of a 340ha milking platform, a 35ha winter crop block, a 25ha calf and silage block and 16ha of pine trees, mostly on the coastal edge of the property.

The property was farmed as two separate entities once the two elder sons (Euan and Vaughan) returned home from tertiary education. Each purchased their half in 1988. Vaughan’s share of the property was then farmed as a sheep/ beef finishing/ dairy wintering unit until 2002, when it underwent a dairy conversion.

Vaughan and Megan have an objective to develop a long-term sustainable farm and support their planning on top of a “four-legged stool” theory of profit, environmental integrity, human resource and heritage/culture.

The farm is situated on the Riverton coastline and encompasses a range of soil types, with varying depths of topsoil and sand. Soil type is about a third Waikiwi silt loam, a third well developed sandy soil with top soil, a quarter sandy river soil, with the remaining approximately 10% peat soil. The stocking rate is kept low to avoid damage to these soils. The choice of cow breed is also driven by the need to nurture the soil structure, with Vaughan using the Jersey cross cows as they are smaller and easier on the environment. Vaughan says he is not pushing for maximum production, but for sustainable production.

The property currently supports a grass-based low input system milking around 900 Friesian-Jersey cross cows through a 60 bail rotary dairy. Last year 2012/13 milk production was 378,263 kgMS. 2013 /14 production is on target to reach around 390,000 kgMS. The stocking rate remains low for the area at 2.7 cows/ha.

Cows kept on farm are wintered outdoors. Oats and moata grass (a fast growing grain) are grown for winter-feed. The rapid growth helps prevent pasture having to be grazed too hard, thereby reducing N loss. Chicory and plantain is also being added to the pasture mix on farm. The Templetons use Overseer to track N losses.

Effluent management is achieved with a weeping wall, solids separation, and water reticulation for cleaning yards post-milking. Low rate application of effluent is through k-line pods at appropriate times, reducing the need for externally sourced fertiliser use.

There is a very clear focus on water quality and nutrient management. The aim is to keep nutrients in the plant root zone and out of waterways. Prior to converting to dairy, the farm had a network of ditches used for stock water. A reticulated water system was established and all the ditches were fenced off as part of the conversion. Bore water now supplies piped water to every paddock. A “green water” system has been installed to reduce water use for yard washing.

Subdivision has increased, creating smaller paddocks.

Protection of waterways on farm has included stock exclusion and riparian planting. Riparian planting is an ongoing operation and gaining momentum (Megan’s job). It is regarded as a very long-term project. It’s not planting but survivability that slows progress on the property. The waterways are mostly drain ditches that require annual weed cleaning/ clearing and maintenance to be effective. 

Trees planted along the coast (originally planted by Vaughan’s grandfather) provide a buffer from the notorious southerly winds that frequently batter the region. The Templetons have cutting rights to the timber and the trees are subject to an ongoing maintenance programme, as well as milling and planting schedules.

The Templetons see themselves as custodians of the family farm and take immense pride in the heritage of the property.

In 1911 William Templeton began flax milling at Otaitai Bush on a 2,000acre property near Riverton. Vaughan’s father Des began working at the mill in 1947. In 1971, the Otaitai Bush Flax Mill closed after the NZ Flax Milling Industry became uneconomic due to competition from overseas fibre and oil based synthetics. Upon closing the flax mill, Des worked tirelessly to drain and develop the swampy coastal property to create an extensive sheep and beef breeding farm. The Templeton Flaxmill Museum is the only working flax mill in the country on its original site. Vaughan and Megan donated the building to the trust that administers the museum, of which Vaughan is now the chairman. When it is available, fibre produced by the mill is sold to floral artists and to Maori craftspeople. The museum attracts about 1,000 visitors a year.

The Templetons employ a lower order sharemilker, Wal (Warren) Calder, to operate the dairy farm. The successful working relationship with Wal has evolved over a number of years, to where Vaughan says Wal is considered “part of the family”.

Vaughan and Megan are clear about their roles on the farm, ensuring they keep up with their responsibilities so that Wal and his staff can concentrate on the cows and day-to-day farming operation.

In 2006, Vaughan was selected for a Nuffield Scholarship, and his chosen topic was nutrient losses. Following this he replaced the farm’s effluent system and his well thought out design impressed the BFEA judges. Solids are separated with a weeping wall. The system incorporates a pond with 90 days of liquid storage. Effluent is applied around the farm at a low rate using K-line pods.

Megan is currently involved with the Southland region Ballance Farm Environment Awards as the Judging Coordinator and she organized the field day at the 2014 regional winners’ place. Megan said the words spoken at the awards reflect their own drivers – people, planet, profit and passion. She has held the role for four years and enjoys it as it gives her the opportunity to get out on some really top farms, as well as showcase the really good, positive things that are happening in farming.”

Megan is also on the client council of Rabobank, which she says involves around two to three meetings a year. The bank has established quite a few councils throughout the regions in Australia and New Zealand. Megan sys it’s about the two-way exchange of ideas and information from the bank to the clients, and is a mirror of what happens in Holland. Megan says the bank “is focused on farming and agriculture and feeding the world as indeed, we are. So it’s really about establishing a closer local network of information.”

The Templetons have two sons, one an engineer in Tokoroa and one son (Peter) starting out on his dairying career. This Gypsy Day (June 2014) Peter will take up a new position in Riversdale. Megan says succession planning is something they have formalised and believes the key to successful succession is open communication. They have engaged a professional facilitator and they meet every six months to continue the open book/open communication process.

Megan says, “We understand that Vaughan has had the opportunity to come into this farm from his parents and we’ve known that all along, that if our children want to come back to farming then we wanted them to have that opportunity. In the meantime, in the 26 years we’ve been here, farming properties have gone from being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions, so it’s a tricky issue, but it always is, through generations. So we started talking with the boys. And we’re at the communication stage. Through Rabobank, we have a facilitator helping us with the communication. We go to the Rabobank office to have a professional setting rather than being at home. It’s helped a lot. It helps because everyone gets a chance to have their say. We’ve brought in other people as well. We’ve brought a farm consultant and our financial bank manager in and they know our children and they know us, know the business. So they’ve been really valuable in helping with that and bringing out opportunities for the future for everyone.”