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Small blocks supplement additional income option

WITH summer's heat starting to impact feed supplies in many parts of the country many farmers are eyeing available feed supplies, and options for sourcing more should things run tight heading into autumn.

For lifestyle block owners summers can be a tricky time, making the choice about whether to buy feed in as large commercial farmers do, or whether to quit stock and have the challenge about how to best manage feed supplies when rain comes and the grass has returned.

But having a block of reasonable size and contour can open up the opportunities for additional income capitalising off feed shortages and supplement demand.

Often when considering a lifestyle block having good advice on location, scale and potential will help ensure it can deliver a return that more than covers its running costs.

Options open to lifestyle block owners can include considering using the property as a source of supplementary feed such as silage or hay supply, or even putting the entire land area into a maize crop.

Bayleys Waikato agent Mike Fraser Jones has witnessed many farms in his area graduate from dairying status to alternative lifestyle-grazing block uses.

He says the opportunity for small block holders to boost income from supplement sales can be useful at certain times of the year, but was not always a huge money earner for most.

“But at certain times of the year, like now, you need to get that grass off, and this is an option to achieve that.”

He was also seeing the definition of what comprised a “lifestyle block” shift in Waikato, and with that an increase in the alternative land use opportunities for those properties.

As dairy farms have tended to become larger it has meant farms under 100ha are increasingly becoming more akin to lifestyle-grazing blocks.

“And for those blocks, owners have options like using them for grass silage or even for growing maize on.”

For those on smaller blocks supplement options can come with a few sacrifices, including the ability to continue to run livestock.

Being prepared to work in with agricultural contractors and their needs is a big plus for smaller lifestyle block owners.

Bill Webb, director of Bill Webb Feed Solutions in Bay of Plenty cautions that while locking up the property for making hay can be appealing, there can be some obstacles.

“Generally contractors will try to steer clear of smaller lifestyle blocks- the gateways are too narrow, the size of the job is simply too small to be able to do it economically, for the owners and for the contractor. “Most baling operations work on about $5 a bale for cost, but on the smaller blocks, that price often needs to be $10 and that can put people off- they will say they can buy it cheaper elsewhere, which is often true.”

Good hay can also only come from good grass, and it is not uncommon for lifestyle blocks to lack the pasture density and quality typically found on closely grazed commercial farms.

Bill points to larger lifestyle blocks over 5ha offering more opportunities for their owners when it comes to offering practical and economic feed solutions.

For small block owners he says having livestock can often prove more profitable, and provide some meat for the household if they elect to have a home kill service.

“But if you do have livestock, and still have a bit of a surplus, it may be worth making it into hay, just to have on hand over the winter period.”

For larger lifestyle block owners considering using their land as a supplement crop supply, maize may be a good option.

“With lifestyle blocks over 5ha or so, planting them entirely into maize is likely to make them a better sort of return.”

Working with a maize contractor can mean the land is fertilised, cultivated, planted into maize, harvested and returned to pasture, all within a matter of months.

Typically a lease payment will be made of $1000-$1200 a hectare, with the entire job being managed by the contractor.

Tirau small block owner Steve Clothier has only recently added 20ha to his adjoining 3ha block.

He believes there is a big market in regions like Waikato and Bay of Plenty for a small scale contractor set up with a square baling machine to make hay for small block owners.

“Small blocks are always a challenge- too small to farm, but too big to mow every week, so there is probably a good business opportunity out there.”

His own block had been in maize when he bought it over a decade ago, but today a neighbour leases it and had managed to get three cuts of silage off it this season.

“Sometimes it could be better to offer your grass as standing feed to be harvested, which is better and simpler than trying to arrange to have it all done yourself.”

He advises small block owners to make themselves known to their larger commercial farming neighbours, some who may be able to include that block into their own farm's rotation if it is conveniently located.

ADD-ON INCOME: Having good advice on location, scale and potential will help ensure it can deliver a return that more than covers its running costs. Picture supplied