Irrigation is not usually associated with farming in the South Island’s West Coast, renowned for its monumental annual rainfall.
Stu and Debbie Bland’s property at Mawheraiti, about 75 kilometres north east of Greymouth, is one exception in a climate which averages about 1800mm of rain each year; by contrast Greymouth receives 600mm more.
“It’s a great climate where we are; it’s a microclimate here, it gets very dry in the summer so we’ve got irrigation on our farm. Most of the farm’s up this end of the Grey Valley are irrigated,” Stu says. “Because it’s a valley it’s pretty much free draining soils, very similar to parts of Canterbury.”
Purchased in 2008, the 97 hectare effective property is the first farm owned by the Bland’s. They previously worked their way around the dairy spiral on farms in Taranaki, Otago and Canterbury.
“Neither of us were from farming backgrounds so we sort of had to make our own way in our career. We’ve always gone where the opportunities are.”
When looking to buy, the Mawheraiti farm was the most attractive to them.
“It’s not until having lived here for quite a number of years that we realised how good it is compared to some of the other areas of the West Coast. ”
It was initially irrigated by 30ha of K-Line, but this was more than doubled to 73ha and a feed pad was added to maximise feed utilisation.
The farm supports 240 to 250 cross-bred cows and is mostly grass-based for feed. Typically each season 50 heifers and 50 calves are grazed out as local grazing options are limited.
“We are working as best we can under the circumstances with our stock agent and the two graziers to minimise the risk of M.bovis where they are; they are very concerned about it as well and are managing things from their end and to keep a pretty closed shop.”
A favourable autumn this year enabled their cows to be milked to June 3 “the longest we’ve ever milked.” Unfortunately this did not mitigate the result of the season’s overall production.
“Last season was a shocker. We hit 96,000 milk solids which is one of the worst season’s we’ve ever done. We generally average about 103,000 milk solids.”
While the summer drought, which resulted in the loss of 20ha of grazing area played a part, Stuart says in hindsight some management decisions could have been better.
“I think we probably underfed the cows a bit in the spring. Maybe we should have put a bit more feed in. We probably ran too close to the wire and it bit us.”
Off farm the Bland’s are actively involved in the dairy industry. Stu was nominated its West Coast Dairy representative in June and Debbie has also undertaken this role in Canterbury.
“She’s been quite a driving force at times in our career and she’s been involved a lot through the years in Federated Farmers and in the community.
“We’ve both got our strengths and we’ve always worked to those. We couldn’t actually do it without each other.”
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