Farm management system with a twist

PHOTOS: Nick and Amy Garden and family; Avenel Station at Millers Flat (inset). (Below) Ewes carrying multiples are preferentially fed, taken off crop early and grazed on pasture with a barley supplement.

Central Otago sheep and beef station owners Nick and Amy Garden are running a farm management system with a difference.
The somewhat present absentee owners run their Avenel Station from Auckland, where Amy looks after their small children and Nick works as NZX’s derivatives and data insights manager, developing the milk price futures market.
The couple put their careers on hold in 2011, when Nick was working the night shift in Auckland, trading commodity futures in Chicago, to tackle the challenge of farming on the family farm at Millers Flat. They spent the next seven years increasing production and setting up a system that would allow them to run the station from a distance.
“I went from the night shift into the snow and the sun, it was a pretty big change,” Nick says. “Our objective was to get the farm systems and processes and reporting in place and ourselves competent and capable to be able to make the right management decisions further down the line.”
He says he and Amy didn’t expect to crack their unique management style at first flush, and they are still learning better ways two years after moving back to Auckland.
“The staffing structure is different from when you have an owner operator on farm to pick up the slack. We recognised after 15 months that we needed another staff member, and that has really helped.”
Nick’s father Pat still lives nearby the farm and can be called upon intermittently to pitch in.
“He still loves it, it still flicks his switches,” Nick says.
Nick and Amy like not to think of themselves as absentee owners, as Nick is on farm monthly, and has fortnightly meetings and regular contact and discussions with the farm manager. They go over what is happening for the week, the fortnight, and the three weeks ahead, everything from stock to cultivation to maintenance.
Nick says it has been a tough season in Otago and a snowy spring affected the steady progress on production gains he and Amy had made in their seven years on the farm. He says the big focus for production gains has been getting more lambs from their triplets. “For a long time we’ve been scanning triplets out, and along with any multiples they get preferential treatment. Even quads, but we haven’t quite cracked that yet.”
Ewes carrying multiples are preferentially fed, taken off crop early and grazed on pasture with a barley supplement and a high magnesium mix.
One of Avenel Station’s KPIs is to measure kgs of lamb weaned per kgs of ewe mated, in an effort to increase the kg amount of lambs weaned while also reducing the mature weight of its ewes. “We want to get more lambs from an ewe that required less input to get there.”
Exactly the type of analytical number crunching Nick has already made a career out of.
With his day job, Nick travels all around New Zealand talking to dairy farmers about how they can manage their milk price risk using futures and options.
He says this is a rapidly growing market which was only launched in New Zealand in 2016 and represents less than 5% of New Zealand’s total milk production. “The NZX has products listed that enable farmers to fix their milk price for the current season and two seasons in advance. That gives farmers some comfort that the volatility of the milk price is going to be removed. I talk to dairy farmers about how these tools actually work and how to use them. It’s a new technology for farmers and they are relatively complex products.
“There is still a large proportion of dairy farmers who haven’t been able to use it yet, and sheep and beef farmers don’t have a product available yet. If China closes the door on chilled meat products, the farmers will have to wear that.”
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