Young farmer eyes big prize
The FMG Young Farmer of the Year contest tests competitors over a wide range of skills important for success in agriculture.
Entrants from the 70 or so clubs around the country are whittled down in regional finals, the nervousness and excitement builds until the national final in July.
Nigel Woodhead, the 2017 Otago Southland winner, will be in that final. He came second in the regional final in the previous two years, and did not like that position one bit.
“I wanted to win it. I knew the other guys were sharp and I’d have to put the work in to beat them.
I got sick of coming second, so I put the work in to study and get prepared. I was pitted against the best.” Work towards the national final has started already.
Entrants have produced a community footprint presentation covering their own farm environment, family situation, and YFC and community involvement.
Then there’s the Agmardt Innovation project where they must come up with a service or product likely to add value to New Zealand agriculture.
At the final there is a technical day, and the practical day.
“I do get nervous,” Nigel says, “ but I cope by doing more preparation so that then it’s all down to me.
I try to embrace my nerves to my advantage.” And he knows the others are all nervous too. And he has been out running to get himself fit.
Nigel’s parents bought the farm in the rolling hills east of State Highway 1 between Milton and Balclutha in 1993.
You can get a tractor over most of its 400 hectares (320ha effective) and it is largely summer safe.
It does dry out at times, such as last season, which they dealt with by selling a lot of lambs and bulls as stores.
“The sheep were pretty skinny and didn’t scan so well, so we did not get so many lambs last year. It takes a long time to come out of a drought, but we’ve bounced back this year.”
They aim for 175 to 180 per cent scanning, and try to get 150-160% lambing.
The flock is romney based with some composite. Wairere rams from the North Island are gradually cutting out the composite influence.
They winter 2600 ewes and 750 hoggets. Lambs are all finished on farm and killed through Silver Fern Farms.
Wool is not a major earner at the moment, but Nigel reckons it is still worth breeding for wool so as to be prepared for when prices pick up.
The beef side of the business involves buying in 60 four-day-old friesian calves in August, and rearing them in a shed for a month.
They spend 4060 days of their first winter on a feedpad in a warm sheltered area, eating balage and hay.
Once soils dry out after winter, the bulls are fed fodder beet through spring to keep them off grass paddocks as long as possible during lambing.
When out on the paddocks, they are shifted twice a week otherwise they get bored and can damage equipment.
All the bulls are off the farm by their second winter. Friesians are chosen for their availability, low cost and ready sale through Silver Fern Farms.
Over the years, fencing has created an average paddock size of three and a half hectares.
Because sheep are reluctant to graze lower slopes, many fences are at the tops of hills which forces the sheep down to feed without resorting to electric fences.
The smaller paddocks also assist in the pasturemanagement cycle of cropping swedes and fodder beet, then regrassing.
Nigel was five when the family came to the farm. Holidays from boarding school saw him back there helping and learning.
After gaining a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree from Lincoln, he worked as a field rep for Midland Seeds in Mid Canterbury, a job he loved.
Two years ago, he and his, now, wife, Leanne, felt they needed a change.
Fortuitously a job as territory manager for Otago Southland YFC came available; Leanne got the job and Nigel’s parents were amenable to taking a step back from the farm.
The couple lease the farm from parents, who now live five minutes down the road, and own all the stock and plant.
“They both help out in an advisory role, and Mum does a lot of work for us. Dad was a pretty good farmer, so it would be silly of me to ignore that.”
While the farm is running well in its traditional manner, there is no complacency in Nigel’s plans.
Embracing new technology, especially what is wellproven, is firmly in his sights. “Farm IQ-type data recording systems could streamline how we run, and make decision-making easier,” he says.
“ We are part of the Clutha Development Trust and get two water tests per year. Our farm is at the start of the watershed with two creeks.
We can test the quality of the water leaving here, and know what we need to put in to place to mitigate things like e-coli, nitrogen or phosphorus run-off.
“At the moment, running the farm is pretty much just me.
But I like being around people, so we might lease to increase the size of the business, and then I would have staff to work with.”
In the meantime, there is plenty to do preparing for that July final.