Low input system works for flood-prone farm

Low input system works for flood-prone farm
PHOTOS: Flooding is a yearly problem for Woodville farm manager Damon Ashworth. Improving the farm’s pasture with new cultivars like plantain is a farm focus.

Being one of the worst-flooding farms in the Tararua District can be costly says, dairy farm manager, Damon Ashworth but careful budgeting and smart farming means it is a viable business.
The 296ha farm is owned by husband and wife Louis and Barbara Kuriger alongside their business partner, Lloyd Harris, and their son Tony Kuriger who is the lower order sharemilker.
It’s located in the small town of Woodville and sits on the corner of the Manuwatu Gorge.
The property receives minor flooding every year but Damon says you can almost guarantee a major flood every six years with torrents consuming up to 200ha of their farm.
“We get all the rainfall catchment from Dannevirke, Eketahuna and all of the Tararuas, it all comes through past our place so if it’s too much all at once it gets backed up on our farm until it has a chance to get through the gorge.”
The flooding itself doesn’t take long to subside and will usually disappear over a couple of days, but the clean up can take weeks.
“It’ll rip out all our fence lines along the river, and can also leave a couple feet of silt on the paddocks as well, not to mention all the debris,” Damon explains.
They’ve had other upstream farms’ irrigation wrapped around the trees, concrete water tanks floating down the river and lots of logs and water troughs from neighbouring properties strewn across the paddocks.
Damon says it’s best dealt with step by step, “You just get into clean up mode and do one thing at a time,” with the first port of call, making sure all the boundary fences are secure.
Hosting a herd of 650 cows, Herd Homes keep them sheltered, fed and hydrated during the floods and throughout the aftermath.
“I wouldn’t want to work without them (Herd Homes) here; the only way you could get around not having them would be to halve the number of cows.”
The cows are fed mostly by what is grown on-farm which ensures costs are kept down.
“We are a low cost farming system – running a system 2 farm, we only have about nine per cent imported feed, so being able to utilise the pasture better to make money, instead of importing supplements, means we don’t chew away at our bottom line.”
Improving the quality and quantity of the farm’s dry matter is an ongoing process.
Damon says 15 per cent of the farm’s pasture is renewed every year and they’re constantly producing new cultivars.
“We are using plantain to get rid of nasty species of plants like couch. We are improving every year, we are getting massive yields out of our new pastures. Using summer crops like turnips and things are working out really well as well.”
Damon’s ability to manage his herd and pastures while maintaining a profit, despite the challenges of the Manawatu, have been recognised at this year’s New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.
He was awarded runner-up in the Dairy Manager category and won $2,770 in prizes and one merit award.
It seems leaving behind his engineering career after the birth of the first of his four daughters, nine years ago, is a decision he has not lived to regret.
“I love being outside, I couldn’t stand being inside all day, everyday and the kids love it. I love being able to get out and shoot hares with the kids and teaching them everything about the farm and how it all works.”

Low input system works for flood-prone farm
PHOTO: Damon and wife Nykita at the Dairy Industry Awards and daughters Skyla, Maddison, Sophia and MacKenzie Ashworth.

He and his wife Nykita are preparing to step up into variable order sharemilking on the farm in the 2020/2021 season as a platform to reach their goal of herd owning sharemilking.
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