David and Sarah Smith

Increasing profitability in the face of tough market and climatic conditions is no mean feat, but it is what Otago farmers David and Sarah Smith have done this year.

Management changes, made as a result of their involvement in ANZCO Foods Red Meat Profit Partnership processor programme, has seen the Smiths save between $57,000 on their fertiliser programme while increasing the volume and value of the meat and wool they produce.

David and Sarah farm 1450ha of rolling to steep hill country near Waikouaiti, North of Dunedin.

Running 4200 ewes, 1150 hoggets and 450 beef bulls, the couple could see potential to increase their productivity and profitability, so becoming part of the RMPP processor programme in March of last year, put them on a path to achieving both of these outcomes.

David explains that while they are part of group of five ANZCO suppliers farming in Otago and Southland, each had identified areas they wanted to focus on that were specific to their business.

For the Smiths this was improving soil fertility, sheep production (lambing percentages and lambing weights) and lifting bull weights.

Through the RMPP programme, they brought in advisors with expertise in all of these areas and they are seeing results already.

David says soil fertility was the first area they focused on and this meant taking full-farm soil tests to establish a fertility baseline. They took 65 samples at a cost of $3000, but resulting savings in fertiliser costs amounted to $50,000-$60,000.

This, says, David, was because soil fertility was better than they thought and allowed them to be more strategic with their fertiliser applications.

One of the most significant changes the Smiths have made through the RMPP programme is in their sheep policy. Rather than breeding replacements, they are buying in Romdale ewe lambs from three breeders and are putting all the ewes to a terminal sire.

This policy resulted in the average kill date moving forward by one-month last season, and an increase in the average carcase weight of 1kg to 18.6kgCW- this is despite extremely dry conditions.

David estimates that changing sheep breed and policy-and associated gains in performance and wool sales, has added $60,000 to their bottom line.

This year they used ram harnesses which identifies early and late lambing ewes. This will allow feed resources to used more efficiently and effectively.

The third area the Smiths have been focusing on is their bull beef. Sourced through ANZCO, the couple buy 450 Friesian bulls every year weighing 350kg-400kg liveweight.

David believes that fine-tuning their feed management will allow them to put an extra 30kg on each animal, at a value of around $150. To do this they are using electronic identification tags to record weights of animals at regular weigh-ins. This will give David and Sarah an indication of which crops and forages are giving them the greatest weigh gain at different times of the year.

For David, being part of ANZCO's RMPP processor programme, has been a positive experience.

"At this stage it's been very beneficial

"It has opened my mind to lot of different things and there is a lot more to come out of it yet."

One of the highlights of the programme has been the opportunity to visit top-performing sheep and beef farmers in North Canterbury. Seeing how these farmers operate, especially in drought, was motivational and has given the Smiths' further impetus to carry-on fine tuning their operation.