Re-grassing the old pine block

Re-grassing the old pine block

Photos from a recent pilot farm discussion day

At a recent pilot farm discussion day

Willie and Fee Wilder

Willie and Fee Wilder run a 690ha farm operation in Central Hawke's Bay. The home block is 340ha and they also have a 350ha lease block 20mins away in an area called Oueroa. Altogether they are running 6500 stock units. The opportunity came up to join the RMPP through their meat processor, ANZCO. With everything else that was going on on-farm at the time Willie's first reaction was "do I need anything else going on?" but after meeting with Alan McDermott, ANZCO's agricultural manager, it was a "no brainer".

Starting off as an individual pilot farm, the topics the Wilders wanted to investigate were succession planning, looking at their different soil types, ram genetics, investigating more drought resistant crops and reseeding pine tree blocks after felling. Chris Garland from Baker Ag worked alongside the Wilders when looking at a succession plan. It took one family meeting with all siblings (an older brother and sister) and all spouses to get those sticky question out in the open. Willie believes that without Chris present family members may have been more reserved and conversation would have not flowed like it did. "Dad always had a plan in his head but really there was so much more to it once the investigating started. Sure Mum and Dad miss the farm like hell but must be proud to see both their sons farming".

The next step was to look at the different soil types on the farm and start spending money more wisely on fertilizer. Willie believes that the days of just blanketing the farm in one type of fertilizer are over. "We got every paddock on the home place soil tested - all 80 paddocks. The results were astonishing as we learnt we had a huge variance. We are now looking at using different brews for different paddocks with lime coming into the equation a lot more. It also means in tighter years we can concentrate on paddocks that need it. Even just having these results has made being a part of the RMPP programme worth it in my opinion".

6 six years ago the Wilders changed where they brought their rams from and with persuasion from Alan, went to the top pick of those. The main reason for change was to introduce some facial eczema tolerance. The benefits of this decision were huge in the past year with most of Hawke's Bay being heavily hit with F.E and the Wilders escaping mostly unharmed with only 12 ewes out of 3200 coming out clinical. Spore counts of 125,000 were recorded on the farm last year as an indication. Investigating new crops to try and combat the dry is still a work in progress but last year they put 10ha of sorghum in after trialing 3ha the year before. Willie was really impressed with its drought tolerance - it kept growing when everything else was brown after baling 15 bales/ha of baleage!

After logging 21ha of pine over the last six years the big question was what to do with the paddocks after that. Willie was keen to put most of it back into grass but after a not so successful attempt at re-grassing when the first lot of trees were felled, through the pilot programme they got in an expert to give them some good advice.

"The first time we burnt the slash then brought some floor sweeping from the seed merchant and flicked it on with the helicopter. What we have end up with is a paddock full of weeds and with a whole lot of different grasses growing in it".

Between that and the next harvest of trees the Wilders had come on board as pilot farmers. Alan knew of a professional agronomist in Gisborne who had since retired but was a major influence when they were breaking in a lot of the hill country up there. The next time Willie sprayed out the paddocks twice; once in the spring and then in the autumn. Following that he had a burn and then applied a proper crawling grass called Rohan after receiving sound advice. He now has two covered-in faces of new grass with the key being spraying out those weeds and old grasses, having a good burn and getting the right seed on the nice warm ash left behind.

The Wilders have now moved from an individual pilot trial to a discussion group with the rest of the ANZCO pilot farmers. Willie and Fee hosted a discussion group in mid-January 2017. Although the farm was looking at its worst with the onset of an early drought at the discussion group, it was good to get some expert advice from professionals on some very topical subjects that the group on a whole were working through. Chris Garland from Baker Ag talked on leasing land and succession and Richard Hilson from Vet services Hawke's Bay did a ewe body condition scoring demonstration followed by a dissection of a faecal egg count reduction test recently done by the Wilders. Local Farmer Sam Morrah talked on feeding ewes on crop and showed the results he had found using farm IQ and Paul Muir who is a local agronomist gave a presentation on the pros and cons of different forages.

Willie and Fee have not regretted taking up the opportunity to be involved in this project because, with a push in the right direction and a little bit of professional help the outcome has been hugely significant to their farm business.