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Richie puts in the hard yards

Tom O'Leary Oct 10
Richie puts in the hard yards
Richie Martinovich with his dogs and cows

Finding good farm workers can be challenging, says Richie Martinovich. Managing his father’s 250-hectare (effective) property at Mangatangi, just beneath the Bombay Hills, Richie has recently faced an issue with a farm worker charged with looking after the farm’s 178ha run-off and stock a few kilometres down the road.

Richie runs a split-calving operation and, as the cows dry off, they take a journey to the run-off, joining up with the young stock and some hereford weaners.

Busy with calving on the home farm, Richie wasn’t able to keep close watch on the farm worker who took charge in June.

When he discovered that things on the run-off weren’t going quite to plan, Richie had a chat with his worker who decided to give notice on the spot.

“I’ve tried older people, younger people—no-one seems to want to work anymore,” he says. “They seem to think farming’s easy. The work ethic is terrible.

We’ve had quite a few different staff—they last just three or four days—they cant handle it.” Richie feels that one of the issues is that he’s not far out of Auckland and with rents being as high as they are, people are attracted to the free house, meat and power and, at 50-60 hours a week, the wage isn’t bad either.

The reality of 4am starts soon hits home. He’s quick to point out that the farm workers on his home farm, Billy and Debbie Pratt and daughter Kara, are now in their second season in charge of the shed morning and evening, and doing a great job.

Richie’s been working 12-14-hour solid days since leaving school. At the age of 14 back in 1983, when his ‘old school’ father told him it was time to become a farmer.

After spending eight years working on his father’s farms at Te Ara and Waiuku, he decided to take a break and got into the courier business— ending up with three truck-and-trailer units and employing drivers.

In the meantime his father bought the Mangatangi property and kept asking Richie to go back onto the land.

Tired of driving, he relented in 2007—returning as second-in-command to the contract milker and peak-milking 650 cows in a spilt-calving operation.

It was a bit of a shock at first, says Richie. In 2010 he took over the reins when the contract milker left and now has full management of the operation.

“When I arrived there was a lot of urea being put on the land and we decided we needed to go a different way,” he says. “We got involved with Agrifert and started spraying on a lot of products based on our soil tests.”

He says the farm’s nitrogen use is now
substantially lower, fertiliser costs are very low, and the cows are pretty good.

“We’ve been doing this for a few years now and it definitely works. Our production is slowly going up again. We are getting about 400 kilograms of milksolids per cow this season. Last season we did about 370kg per cow because it was pretty bloody wet.”

Richie says the land is a “funny, clayey-based soil” that gets very dry in the summer and pretty wet in the winter.

“We grow 20ha of chicory and feed out grass and maize silage, and a bit of palm kernel. We also feed out a few veges —onions, carrots and potatoes and the odd cabbage from Pukekohe – which is pretty cheap feed. The cows love their veges.”

Richie has done a lot with fencing and soils; working hard to tidy the farm up so that he and his wife, Cathy, along with the seven children, can relax and have a lifestyle.

“We need a balance between work and lifestyle – getting the right staff is the key there. We need more farmers, but we need to get them trained up in the schools much earlier.”


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