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Adapting to change key to success

Adapting to change key to success
Hawke’s Bay farmers, Greg and Gail Mitchell, are well ahead of the game when it comes to sustainable farming and environmental compliance.

Hawke’s Bay farmers Greg and Gail Mitchell say they prefer to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to environmental compliance.

The couple, who own two dairy farms in Patoka, have been making some changes to their dairy units to ensure they comply with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s TANK plan, a project that began in 2012 to look at rules for the best way to manage the land and waterways of the Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu catchments.

Reducing sediment loss is a key part of the plan so the Mitchell’s are already retiring 8ha of gullies and land unsuitable for farming to reduce erosion. They are undertaking riparian planting of natives and fencing off gullies and streams.

“There is not much dairy farming in this region and with the bad press dairy farming has had of late we want to get ahead of the game and show that farming can be done sustainably,” explains Gail.

It’s just one example of how the couple has built up a successful dairy business in 20 years going from sharemilking to producing just under one million kilograms of milk solids per year.

“It’s about adapting to change,” says Greg. “We are always looking for improvements we can make in our farming business to become more efficient and productive.”

They have intensively re-grassed and upgraded their 460 hectare High Road farm that milks 1550 cows and are in the process of doing the same on their second farm, located 10 kilometres away, which milks 800 cows.

They have expanded the area they spread effluent over on both farms by trenching kilometres of new pipe underground seeing High Road spread over 150ha up from 90ha and the second farm 80ha when previously it was 20ha.

The next step is upgrading their effluent ponds on the farms and upgrading their travelling irrigator to a low application system with automatic shut off features. The rewards are beginning to fl ow from their hard work and they expect even more rewards to follow.

“I think as time goes on we’ll notice a difference in terms of soil results and the amount of fertiliser application required,” says Gail.

This year for the first time they have individually soil tested every paddock and formed a fertiliser plan for the smaller of the two farms. They will do the same for the High Road farm this year.

The changes they have implemented has seen stock numbers reduce with production remaining constant. For example High Road used to milk 2500 cows. They say this is a result also of a focus on quality cows.

“A lot of people with large numbers of cows don’t focus on quality breeding. But better cows can achieve more production and milking fewer cows is better for the environment,” says Greg.

Better stock also allows them to maintain a profitable side business which sees them sell around 300 four day old calves each year. To achieve good stock the Mitchells mate the bottom of their Kiwicross herd to Speckle Park.

They AB premier sires for six weeks then three weeks short gestation AI.
“We’ve worked hard, been open to new ideas and have focused on running a profitable farm business,” says Greg.

“We’d like to be able to give back now so we are looking at putting a contract milker on our smaller farm next year,” says Gail. “It’s time to step back,” adds Greg, “and benefit from all our hard work.”

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