Trellinoe Farm

July 2009

Sustainable farming at Trellinoe

The Wills family is investing in sustainability on a 1134ha hill country farm in Hawkes Bay in response to extreme weather events of the past few years, and in the expectation that more variable climate and market demand will require more sustainable farming practices.

Brothers John and Brian Wills bought the 1134ha Trellinoe farm in Hawkes Bay in 1956 when it was reverting to scrub and developed it back to farmland. After being cut over in the 1920s and 30s, Trellinoe was regenerating kanuka, goats, rabbits and wild pigs. There were no buildings, no pastures and no fences. After a decade of scrub cutting and pasture development, John and wife Fiona Wills also began establishing the 12ha Trellinoe garden and cafe, which is a showplace attraction on the Napier-Taupo Rd, near Te Pohue. Four years ago son Bruce Wills returned to the farm to join his brother Scott in running Trellinoe farm. Bruce is a former rural banker and investment adviser, and is now also chairman of Federated Farmers Meat and Fibre division nationally.

Trellinoe is 1134ha of which 800ha is effective for pastoral farming. The balance is largely in trees with 110ha in covenant to QE11 Trust. Annual rainfall average is 1300mm but with significant variation between years. The property is carrying 7500 stock units, which has been reduced to raise sustainability.

In February 2009, towards the end of an extended dry period, the farm was carrying 3500 ewes, 4000 lambs, 900 hoggets, 220 breeding cows as well as 400 other cattle (steers and heifer replacements). The ewe numbers have come down from 6500 to 3500 and total stock units were up to 10,000 before the 2007 drought, so there has been a 25% reduction.

Farm management: The drought of 2007 triggered farm management changes towards more sustainability. Other contributing factors were economic signals and workloads, as Bruce is chairman of Federated Farmers meat and fibre division.

Significant changes in stock policies and pasture management include fewer numbers, a change of sheep breed, a change in the sheep/cattle ratio, more dams, new access tracks, more trading stock and maintenance of longer pasture during the dry summer periods.

Changes in stock and pasture management have been supported by a huge investment in fencing of gorges and infrastructure development, for which some bank borrowing has been required, plus assistance from the QEII Trust.

Fencing of the gorges has been a huge time and financial commitment, with 18km of 7-wire post and batten fence, behind which is 110ha of retired country. Bruce said they dug by hand 3000 post holes, attached12,000 battens, string out 130km of wire and placed 135,000 staples. They hope the fences will last 100 years. The benefits include intensification of the remainder of the farm and better time management when moving stock, including greater biodiversity and better water quality.

40 new dams have been added for water storage and 12km of new access track. The water plan is to use what is already there, with more dams and shade trees to keep water cooler and reduce evapotranspiration. Bruce and Scott now keep pasture longer because in early summer the longer grass shades the clover and the pasture recovers better from a dry period. Poplar poles are planted in erosion-prone areas and established trees are pollarded to prevent them from shading grass.

The caf established by John and Fiona operates every day except during winter, associated with 13ha of gardens which are a wonderful tourist attraction. Bruce believes the contact that townies have with Trellinoe is very worthwhile. Recently they hosted 100 members of the public on the nationwide Federated Farmers open day. Bruce has also been at the forefront of the federations $150 lamb campaign.