First stop of the day was with Tom and Leanne Heneghan. Originally from the UK, Tom had always wanted to be a farmer, but had largely given up on that dream whilst growing up in suburban London. After completing an agriculture R&D project at University, he took the chance and moved out to NZ around 15 years ago.
With only a week at his first job, the farm owner felt confident in Tom and went on holiday, leaving Tom to his own devices and he has never looked back since, working his way up the ranks across various roles, growing equity as he went. Tom believes that every job, no matter the situation, presents valuable lessons if you’re only willing to take the opportunity.
Since 2009, Tom and his wife Leanne have been at Rakaia, in a 50% sharemilking arrangement with farmowner Ted Rollinson. They run a low input operation with 1500 cows, producing 420-440kgMS solely on a pasture diet. The flood irrigation farm was initially converted to dairy in 1981, however is progressively being adapted to a central pivot irrigation system. This change in approach (less water, more often philosophy) is partially to bring the farm into line with increasing concern in the community about water conservation and nitrogen leeching regulations. The farm is allowed 1L/Ha/s of water (380L/s in this case) but typically only uses about 60% of this allotment.
Tom keeps his finger on the pulse, undertaking weekly farms walks. Pasture management is paramount. Tom bucks the conventional wisdom, preferring to give the herd a 24hr allocation of grass (instead of 2 x 12 hour allocations), but the staff will monitor the residuals during the day, and move if running short of feed.
Tom is focussed on all aspects of the business and long-term profitability, but this is underpinned by a visibly obvious passion for dairy farming (his enthusiasm was infectious!). With respect to the low milk price environment of the last few years, he suspects that might have deterred many of the operators who are purely profit focussed, and despite the harder times, will ultimately be a good thing for the industry.
Next stop on the southbound itinerary was the Timaru office of DairyNZ. Our presenter was the friendly Trevor Gee, Consulting Officer for the South Canterbury and North Otago regions – originally from Ireland. DairyNZ is a national organisation which invests dairy farmers’ levy money into a wide range of programmes, such as industry R&D, career promotion and advocacy with government. DairyNZ is leading the world in many of their tools, apps and materials, all readily available for members on their website www.Dairynz.co.nz
With the recent lower milk price environment, DairyNZ’s role has been critical in assisting farm owners, sharemilkers and managers. The field staff had a mandate to touch base with each and all of their members and offer assistance where they could.
Trevor acknowledged that DairyNZ is sometimes criticised as being excessively grass focussed, but he felt that DairyNZ simply advocates maximising grass utilisation as the first priority before introducing other fodder, as the science and financial data speaks for itself.
VAN LEEUWEN MEGADAIRY, MAKIKIHI
Next stop: Aad and Wilma Van Leeuwen’s barn in Makikihi, which is one of the largest robotic dairies in the world. The $22M, 1.3Ha facility was opened in late 2014 at 50% utilisation, but is now approaching full capacity with 1400 cows and 24 DeLaval robots. The herd calves year-round, with the cows being housed in the barn during lactation, with two months outside when dried off.
There are 5 x 100m concrete storage bunkers onsite, which have capacity to store up to 5M tonnes of various fodders which are all harvested from supporting acreage.
All effluent is collected nearby into a 12.5M litre tank (approx. 6 months storage) and then used to fertilise nearby crops.
The Van Leeuwen’s are no stranger to technology, this being their third robotic system to date. The barn and robot system allows for a flat milk curve, and therefore any associated price premiums for winter milking. It also reduces the risk and uncertainty of the human element in their large operation, as a response to skilled staff shortages. Furthermore, Aad believes the system allows optimal feed management, cow comfort and comprehensive herd information, whilst reducing the overall environmental impact of a similar sized operation.
It’s fair to say that the size and scale of the operation was staggering and unlike anything we’d ever seen before, and we are grateful to Aad for his time and insight. Aad & Wilma arrived in New Zealand in the early 90’s from Holland. The three different nationalities visited today highlighted the role good immigration policy can have on driving the success of an industry.
We had a quick stop at the Dunedin Railway Station, a beautiful heritage listed building opened in 1906, before grabbing dinner at the Speight’s Brewery in central Dunedin.