Waikato Winners

Puahue dairy farmers and drystock farmers John Hayward and Susan O'Regan

Waikato BFEA Supreme Winners

John Hayward and Susan O'Regan

WAIKATO SUPREME WINNERS

Puahue based dairy farmers John Hayward and Susan O'Regan have been named Supreme Winners of the 2016 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA).

The Judge Valley Dairies’ 245ha property at Puahue east of Te Awamutu is the amalgamation of a dairy farm and a neighbouring drystock farm.

It is, according to the award judges, a highly productive business that is working well in a challenging landscape. The judges wrote: “Robust management decisions are made to apply the appropriate land use to the different capabilities of the farm. Very impressive riparian planting, sediment and erosion control measures have been implemented on the property. You are obviously both very proactive in making this a key attribute to your property.”

The range of contour, from flat to steep, gives a balance of country John and Susan are successfully working with as they strive for an economic unit with minimum supplement coming through the farm gate, whilst also ensuring long-term stewardship and environmental care. “We believe if you are farming you need to realise the value of having wetlands and marginal lands,” says John.

This season 485 cows are being milked and they are on track for their targeted 235,000 kgMS of production. It is a System 4 split calving operation; the Friesian half of the herd calve in autumn and the Jerseys calve in spring.

Judge Valley Dairies has a 140ha milking platform and the remainder of the farm is used as support land for grazing their heifers and dry cows, retired into regenerating bush, enhanced wetlands, or planted in manuka.

In an expanding joint venture with Comvita, they have 5ha of manuka plantations for high-potency honey production established and another 8ha underway.

The manuka establishment will mitigate erosion and reduce the overall nitrogen leaching factor on the property. “It’s a winwin situation on land that was marginal in any event,” explains Susan. “The manuka deal turns it into land that is productive on three fronts and this use sits very comfortably with our views environmentally.”

John and Susan purchased the first property of what is now Judge Valley Dairies in an equity partnership in 2008. In 2012 the partnership purchased the neighbouring drystock farm and integrated it into the first property and the couple are now farming in their own right, through their company.

The infrastructure upgrade included the construction of a staff house, race, water and effluent systems and a 30-aside herringbone cowshed initially and, in 2013, a carefully researched feedpad and feed bunkers with 500 tonne capacity. The new feedpad has allowed a greater efficiency of conversion of supplementary feed into milk production and an improvement in cow health and condition.

In addition, a flood wash system using green water recycled through the effluent pond and a weeping wall at the feedpad “gives us the chance to capture solids and use them strategically in places like our maize paddocks”. While the feedpad has increased demand on labour “the benefits are phenomenal” says John.

Judge Valley Dairies is John and Susan’s first farming venture together; prior to setting up the operation John was sharemilking and Susan was a barrister, practising in Te Awamutu. Between them the couple have five children, Emily (16), George (14), Ben (14), Lily (6) and Jack (20 months). The couple pinpoint the crystallisation of their environmental awareness to Ben’s attendance at nearby Puahue School.

John and Susan travelled to Australia for a large “Kids Teaching Kids” event. Ben was one of eight New Zealand Enviroschool children to present about this country’s approach to water protection. “Once you start learning what your children are learning, you start asking hard questions,” says Susan. John and Susan have a clear view on their responsibility as land users.

They believe the requirement that farmers are specifically accountable for their outputs is inevitable. “If we can set our business up sustainably, we will be on the right foot going forward and able to meet any such demands,” says John.

They are open to technology and systems which assist in this accountability. They have chosen to use a Väderstad cultivator which is “much gentler on the soil”. Chicory is successfully being used on the hills for younger stock, eliminating the process of making silage there. And both the Smart Maps fertiliser mapping system and TagIt Halo for monitoring and recording water system operation and milk temperature status are fully utilised, and appreciated.

The couple describe their relationship with Waikato Regional Council, and their interaction with council staff as “crucial”. They have a three year Environmental Programme Agreement with the council which has a cost to the farm of around $100,000. “There is a lot of expertise and knowledge shared both ways, and the funding they can help us access for environmental care are things we really value,” says John. The property consists of 45 percent flat, 40 percent rolling and 15 percent steep contour. A Land Use Capability Assessment was undertaken with Waikato Regional Council in 2014. This comprehensive measurement and mapping of the soils and land types “has been a really helpful assessment to have undertaken” providing insights that have formulated their way forward, says Susan.

The assessment details that they have 123ha of cultivatable country, 34ha that should be protected from cattle and 10ha that is very prone to erosion and is best suited to planting out. “The Land Use Assessment is a tool we are constantly using,” says John, who has plans with the council for poplar pole planting and creating another wetland, bringing their total to 12.

“We have the hope of getting schools involved in this one, as an educational and awareness project,” says John. “It’s got to be easier to teach the next generation than change the thinking of some of the current generation.”

There are two full-time staff, married couple Amardeep Singh and Mandeep Kaur, and one permanent casual, Jeremy Reader, on the farm. Jeremy is a former employee who returned “so we have designed hours to suit John, he’s really happy,” says Susan.

Amardeep and Mandeep are in their first season but also obviously valued. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” says John, “and the farm has never been so clean and tidy.” Adds Susan, “it is wonderful to hear laughter coming from the cowshed at milking time.”

In the 2015 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards John and Susan received the Waikato Regional Council Water Protection Award and the LIC Dairy Farm Award.


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