Irrigation brings land-use changes
While working within fields of change, Wanaka Agricultural Contracting Ltd has firmly established its presence in the farming landscape of Central Otago. Richard and Lynne Woodhead, the energy behind the business, can justifiably be proud of the contracting business they have built from its small beginnings almost 30 years ago.
Taking calculated risks and opportunities to develop their business, the couple now operate $2.5 million dollars worth of modern hi-tech machinery, servicing a 50km radius around their Wanaka home town, along with a yard at Tarras servicing the eastern side of their patch.
Along the way they have established a reputation for reliability, trusted advice and getting the job done within their farming community.
Moving from the Taieri Plains to Wanaka in the late 1980s to drive tractors for a Wanaka station, Richard and Lynne were offered an opportunity to purchase the equipment a year later. Wanaka Agricultural Contracting was born.
The business doubled in size in 2004 when a farmers’ syndicate that Richard was working along side offered him their mowers, baler and other agricultural gear.
The next big jump came in 2013 when a baleage business was brought into the fold, adding three to four men to the operation at peak season.
“We usually run one full time staff member through the winter with up to 13 staff during the summer,” says Richard. “With the ski fields handy, we’re able to pick up staff from that industry.
They come off the snow groomers mid-October and hop on our machines for the summer.”
In the early days of operation the business focused on cultivation and breaking in native land with heavy plough and big discs.
Now it covers all cultivation from direct drilling, conventional sowing, silage, baleage, hay baling and rut filling. Richard says that the biggest change over the last few years has been the introduction of pivot irrigation.
Driven by growth in the dairy industry and the need for winter grazing a lot of cows came in from Southland, West Otago with some from the West Coast, which Richard says has changed the way farmers manage and work their farms.
Development on irrigated land has generally been on a large scale, particularly the last 5 years, much of it going into grass. “Irrigation brings timeline pressure,” explains Richard.
“You have less of a window to get the work done so you either need more gear or you’re doing more work at night, mainly on cultivation work. It has squeezed the season tighter.
We used to cultivate ground all winter when the ground wasn’t frozen. That’s been pushed to September.” He says that double cropping of paddocks on the irrigation is getting more common.
Taking a winter crop then going into a spring-sown cereal that is taken for silage or baleage then back into a winter rape or fodder beet.
Richard says that fodder beet has now replaced kale as a main winter grazing crop on the irrigated land.
“You can never guarantee that the same things will be happening on the same property from one year to he next. It’s a changing environment.”