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Quiet revolution in hill country farming

GISBORNE, Wairoa and East Coast hill country farmers are leading the country as innovators and are in great shape to take on the challenges of 2018.

AgFirst agribusiness consultant Peter Andrew says sheep and cattle hill farmers here have progressed to become some of the best in New Zealand.

“We have moved from being the hayseeds to being some of the most innovative farmers in New Zealand,” he said.

“There has been a quiet revolution going on in the hills that few people understand.”

Farm discussion groups have been a key driver for the change, he says.

“There are 80 farms that openly compare their financial results with other farmers. This benchmarking includes the cream of our district’s farmers.”

This process of continuous improvement has been going on for 25 years.

“It's all about learning from the top operators and moving to best practice. We are now into the second generation of group members. This district is truly the home of the discussion group.”

The standard of workers in the district has risen over the years, thanks to the Waipaoa Farm cadets programme, Mr Andrew said.

“I believe it has had huge impact on the calibre of workers in this region.”

Motivated workforceThis district now has a young and motivated workforce.

“We have plenty of workers. We just need the jobs. We are one of the few industries that need more jobs. The desire to work on farms and the passion for young people to go farming is strong.”

While other regions are closing down dog trialling clubs, this district has record numbers of young workers running dogs at local trials.

“Our Showgrounds dog trials have the largest number of entries of any dog trials in New Zealand. At that dog trial you are just as likely to be beaten by a woman.”

This district has a lot of beef cattle and 2017 was a year with great beef prices. The average beef price has gone up each year for nine of the last 10 years.

“Gisborne is also the ‘go-to’ place for beef genetics. We have more studs here than any other district. This is because we are the best place to grow beef and our bulls have a reputation of producing results.”

With sheep, the region has gone from being “a joke” to producing some of the best sheep results in the country.

“Most of our top farmers now have a lambing percentage of more than 150 percent and our very best is more than 170 percent.

“I have said for many years that we have some very high-performing sheep farmers, and no one has proved me wrong. This all driven by some great local sheep studs.”

Huge progress environmentallyEnvironmentally, there has been huge progress.

“We have moved forward from the erosion control planting to be more strategic about our tree planting. There is now a heavy emphasis on riparian planting, with manuka often the tree of choice.”

Mr Andrew said the state of many of the roads in the rural sector is challenging.

“One of the great advantages of sheep and beef farming is that the number of truck movements is minimal compared with some other land uses.

“Also, most of our stock truck movements are seasonal, with most of the stock sold in the drier spring, summer and autumn seasons.”

The future of the pastoral sector looks positive.

“There is a great confidence in the sheep and beef sector and the ultimate indicator has been the recent increase in the farm land values.”

Mr Andrew said recent sales indicate the district has some of the most expensive hill country land in New Zealand.

“This price has been driven up by local sheep and beef farmers, who believe in the land’s long-term sustainable production.”

The district has a spectacular and healthy landscape of green hills and tree-laden valleys.

“This, in combination with our genuine rural folk, is why we are a magnet for Country Calendar (rural television programme).

“We need to retain that blend of what people love about outdoors and farming, such as dogs and horses, while embracing technology such as satellites and drones.”

Our region is now producing some of the best sheep in the country. A keen bench of 60-plus buyers, sunny sky and excellently presented stock combined to produce a strong sale on McNeil Farming’s Puketoro Station inland from Tokomaru Bay yesterday, where a yarding of 5400 sheep and 700 steers changed hands in the space of two hours. Auctioneer Shane Scott (right) said it was a very good sale. Shannon Raven (left) assisted Mr Scott. Picture by Rebecca Williams