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New farm upgrades bearing fruit Karen Phelps

New farm upgrades bearing fruit
Farmers Greg and Gail Mitchell look out over their 460ha Hawke’s Bay farm. Farm manager Mika Kanae and seven staff help run the dairy unit.

For Greg and Gail Mitchell, the move four seasons ago from Atiamuri to Patoka, Hawke’s Bay heralded a period of intensive re-grassing and upgrading of their new 460 hectare High Road farm.

The rewards are beginning to fl ow from their hard work which has seen a substantial area of the farm re-grassed, supported by large tracks of land put into crops to feed the stock during the pasture upgrade process.

“We had been farming in Atiamuri for 10 years and were looking to grow our farming business by owning two farms, each supporting a herd of about 500.

Hawke’s Bay was not a location we were looking at, however when this farm came up for sale there were three factors that guided our decision to buy it,” Greg explains.

These were the quality of land, the scale of the farm and the price per hectare of the rolling contour farm, now carrying their herd of 1600. In 2016 the couple bought another farm at Patoka, 10km away, carrying 800 cows.

Both farms operate to a Dairy system 3, cropping 20% of both farms annually, though with the quality of pasture substantially improved the re-grassing programme at High Road farm is past its peak.

“In 2017 we cropped 120 hectares between the two farms, with our herd on crops from late January through to mid-July. We grow turnips, fodderbeet and kale, though this year we won’t be growing kale.”

Last season was tough Greg says, given the wet spring followed by a dry summer but so far this season production is up 20%, with a target of 600,000 kgMS; or 1350 kg/ha or 388 kg/cow. Milking will continue through to the end of May.

Calving also went well with great grass growing conditions. “We had our first 100kg calves off by the first of November,” says Gail, who is responsible for HR and compliance sy stems, though steps in to being more hands-on a few times a year.

“We’ve developed our own farm policies and the working culture on the farm is very positive. There’s a feeling that everyone is looking after each other,” Gail says.

Each farm has its own manager, with Greg spending time on both farms most days. Mika Kanae manages High Road farm; he’s been working for the Mitchell’s since the Atiamuri days.

Helping run the farm is a team of seven dairy workers. The engine-room for milk production at High Road farm is a 50 bale rotary with a Protrac Vantage system.

Processing 1560 cows at peak milking through the plant takes several hours, so the staff work in two teams of four, with one crew starting at 3am with the second team starting at 7am, assisting the fi rst team until the end of their shift.

Greg says that production costs of low to mid $3 per kg solids produced will continue to fall once the farm is fully developed and the nutritional benefits from the re-grassing efforts begin to flow.

When asked about any plans to move on again Greg says, having now bought the second farm, which has the capacity to be substantially improved on, means this will be where they see their farming journey out.

“When we arrived in the district, most farms had absentee owners, these farms were generally underperforming and dairy didn’t have a good reputation in the district. It’s been great to see this situation turn-around. I think it’s been significant that the people who now own the farms are, for the most part, working on them and very involved in development decisions.”

The couple’s farming history has been one of improving the condition and performance of each farm they have owned.
“One focus is to improve herd quality.

AB premier sires for 6 weeks then 3 weeks short gestation AI. We also mate the bottom 10% to beef, some are reared and some are sold to neighbouring calf rearers.

Our resource consents are up later this year so the effluent system will see a major upgrade.” Greg expects that as a norm the farm will continue to use about 12% of its area for cropping.

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