While many Maori trusts are focused on making their land more productive, South Waikato’s Te Raparahi Lands Trust is buying more dairying land. Sheryl Brown visited.
While other dairy farmers wait to supply Miraka to gain its lucrative 10c/kg milksolids (MS) premium over Fonterra’s milk price, Te Raparahi Lands Trust is intending to increase production within the next year.
The trust owns two South Waikato farms at Te Waotu and one at Tokoroa and is planning to buy a fourth farm (also fertilised by Kiwi Fertiliser) in an equity partnership with sharemilkers Murray and Tracey Simpson.
Because the trust was an original Miraka supplier when it opened in the 2011-12 season it’s still able to increase milk supply to the Maori-owned dairy company.
Trustee Phillip Samuels had no hesitation in signing up at the first opportunity despite plenty of critics. But Miraka has grown faster than predicted with its milk powder factory reaching capacity in its second season. It’s also just opened a new UHT plant on its factory site at Mokai, 30km northwest of Taupo which will require an extra 60 million litres of milk from another 12,000-15,000 cows.
Phillip was appointed a trustee for Te Raparahi Lands Trust 20 years ago after a long involvement in agriculture as stock agent, contractor and farmer. The trust was one of the first to convert forestry blocks to dairying land when Phillip saw an opportunity to buy a 28ha block on the boundary of the Tokopuhi farm in 1999.
When the trust sold its Fonterra shares to supply Miraka it bought another farm and now has debt of only $3 million on $15m of assets, putting it in a strong position to grow further, buying back land it previously owned.
The three farms are run as one operation with Murray and Tracey milking 400 cows on Te Harore a Kapu while farm managers run Tokopuhi and Materoa. The couple are in their eighth season sharemilking for the trust and milk 1000 cows across the three properties, producing 320,000kg milksolids (MS) in drought conditions last year but on target for 370,000kg MS this season.
They see an equity partnership offering them an opportunity for land ownership while being able to keep their sharemilking position while the trust wants to keep a successful team of people together.
Murray and Tracey calve 800 cows on their block with cows walked across the road or trucked to the Tokoroa farm to be milked. They’re the quality control centre to monitor calving and colostrum cows and also look after most heifers every season.
“We are constantly juggling cows. It’s about utilising the grass and it requires excellent communication,” Murray says.
The trust pays half the transport costs which makes it feasible to transport the cows between the farms and the 25ha and 20ha runoffs nearby where 200 cows are wintered for six to eight weeks, leaving only 200 cows on Te Harore a Kapu.
“That takes the pressure off and allows us to build up quite a bit of feed here,” he says.
Phillip, Murray and Tracey work closely with Agfirst consultant Mark Macintosh who Murray says is great with figures and works well with his style of farming, concentrating on feed budgets and pasture management.
The trust pays no regular dividends to its 395 owners but profit is invested back into its farms. Educational grants are paid out as reimbursement for the owners’ tertiary education. It also employs the local Pikitu Marae or sports clubs to do its fencing and spraying, which is another way of giving back to the community.
“I’m a big believer that the money we earn should go through everyone in the area,” Phillip says.
But while expanding its business is very much on the radar the trust isn’t looking to intensification. Murray and Tracey have reduced the stocking rate to 3.1 cows/ha aiming for a more sustainable operation.
“It might sound bizarre for sharemilkers to decrease stocking rates, but it really comes down to having your soils in a better state so they can grow the grass and your cows are getting what they need out of them,” Tracey says.
The farms are all System 2 with minimal supplement use. The cows are fed a maximum of 500kg of maize silage and 150kg of palm kernel throughout the year.
“We could pump in the feed and do more production, but at what cost?” Phillip says.
Nitrogen use has also been reduced significantly. Last year the three farms put on 89kg N/ha, 14kg N/ha and 68kg N/ ha. Two years ago the farms applied about 150kg N/ha/year each.
Phillip admits he was one of the worst when it came to pouring on nitrogen fertiliser at any chance.
“We used to have our own silos for urea but I’ve had a paradigm shift myself.”
Any nitrogen is now applied as a foliage spray often mixed with other fertilisers at a low rate of 12kg N/ha.
“It’s a more holistic approach and trying to get things in harmony. You’ve got to start somewhere. The iwi is here forever and you’ve to look at the long term scenario.”
They’ve launched their own three-year fertiliser trial between the three properties; using products from Kiwi Fertiliser, Environmental Fertilisers and Ballance Agri-Nutrients. In the second year they
are starting to see a few subtle differences including more clover where Kiwi Fertiliser has been used.
“It comes back to having soil in a better state. Production doesn’t govern us,” Tracey says.
The trust is also developing a sustainability template with Headlands, Environment Waikato, Raukawa Trust and the Waikato River Authority to measure and monitor nutrient leaching.
Te Harore a Kapu Tokopuhi Materoa
120ha Steven Masters (2IC)
109ha Hayden McKenzie
92ha Tony Davy and Ashleigh Tell
400 young cows
320 mixed age cows
280 older cows
1080kg MS/ha 325kg MS/cow
1100kg MS/ha 375kg MS/cow
1270kg MS/ha 418kg MS/cow
12.7t DM/ha 13.4t DM/ha 14.t DM/ha
28kg N/ha 32kg N/ha 26kg N/ha
Tracey Simpson has been an artificial insemination (AI) technician for 15 years and does the AI runs for all three of the trust’s farms. She nominates every cow and tends to look at the fat test and Production Worth (PW) over Breeding Worth (BW) when she is selecting sires.
“If the fat test is going to be high so is the protein.”
The current herd average is a BW of 107/45 and a PW 129/65 making them not far off their ideal herd, she says.
She’s also a qualified homeopath, using these treatments on the herd since 1999. She has worked at Homeopathic Farm Support in Hamilton for the last two years and all staff are sent there on day courses to get up to speed.
Herbage tests are done twice a year to test mineral levels in the pasture while bloods and livers of cull cows are also tested to check minerals.
Tracey orders a custom mix of minerals which is administered through a dosatron on each farm throughout the season.