We’ve come a long way – award-winner
When Lance and Wendy Main look back on what their farm near Oxford was like when they took up the land in 2010, they can see huge differences in both soil health and productivity.
Their farm and stock-management achievements were recognised at the 2017 Ballance Farm Environment Awards, where they received the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award and the LIC Dairy Farm Award.
Originally 165 hectares in extent, the farm was only a few seasons into a dairy conversion when they bought it. The year before they started, total production reached 67,000 kilograms of milksolids.
The Mains have expanded the property to 255ha and lifted production to 277,000kg. They have regrassed extensively and planted 10,000 pine trees for shelter.
Their goal this season is to peak-milk 540 cows and to push production from their ayrshire and friesian herd past 500kg milksolids per cow; they have their cows on a high-quality feed regime.
The couple kept only 50 cows from their previous equity-partner position in Southland, with Wendy using her experience as a junior stock judge to build up their current herd. “We’ve come a long way,” says Lance.
“We’re delighted with the way things have gone.”
Their interest in ayrshires goes back 20 years when they encountered them while sharemilking in Northland.
They got involved in the local ayrshire club and never looked back: “They’re something different and we really enjoy them.”
At Oxford, Lance and Wendy started with only a basic understanding of their farm’s soil type, but
that soon changed as Wendy began applying her experience as a primary ITO tutor – “She started using our farm as a research model,” says Lance.
Since 2013, their experience as Synlait gold-plus and gold elite certified suppliers – including helping develop the Lead With Pride programme – has, they say, proved invaluable and undoubtedly laid the groundwork for their Ballance award success.
“We can’t speak highly enough of that programme, which really encourages best on-farm practice,” Lance.
The Ballance judges praised the Mains for their use of monitoring, measuring and benchmarking tools.
Paddocks going into crop are monitored before and after cropping, and regular area testing is carried out.
A moisture meter has proved an invaluable aid to understanding soil profile.
A mix of Poulfert poultry manure and sawdust is used as fertiliser, and has greatly improved soil condition, says Lance. “It’s definitely opening the soil up and we’re getting better moisture retention.”
While their farm has higher-than-average annual rainfall for Canterbury – around 850 millimetres – much of it comes down as snow or winter rain.
Irrigation remains an important part of the equation and they are able to use around 3.2mm per day.
“We put it on only when we need to,” adds Lance.
Back in 2010, there was just one functional well on the farm.
That and two other abandoned wells were redeveloped and made operational.
“We’ve gone from 18 litres a second to 64 litres a second. We irrigate around half to two-thirds of the farm in summer.”
Neither Lance nor Wendy has a farming background, so they have had to learn the ropes from scratch. They have worked hard over manyyears to achieve farm ownership.
Lance started as a 16-year-old farm cadet in Northland and, after he and Wendy married, they devoted almost 30 years to sharemilking, from Kaitaia to Gore.
Now, both feel ready for change.
This season, Wendy’s nephew Rhys Harris and his wife, Lily, have started contract-milking on the farm, with Lance in a mentoring role.
“I haven’t taken on any other work at this stage, though a few people have suggested I consider a role as a farm adviser. In the short term, I hope to get out and do those jobs on the farm that have been put to one side.”
Wendy’s life remains very busy with ITO classes and part-time nursing.
The couple have two adult children, son Jesse and daughter Sarah. They have five grandchildren and a 17-year-old niece is currently living with them.