A Supreme Environment at Pukekauri Farms

May 2015

A Land Environment Plan was the catalyst for this farm's environmental development

Pukekauri Farms in the foothills of the Kaimais behind Katikati, Western Bay of Plenty, was the supreme award winner in the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards, and won an additional four awards. Farmer Rick Burke and the other owners have retired former grazing land and boosted dry matter production on the remaining land by two tonnes per hectare, resulting in liveweight gains and profitability increases. 

Rick Burke has part-owned and managed 350ha Pukekauri Farms since the early 1980’s. Pukekauri is made up of 250ha owned by the Seddon Family Trust, a 50ha joint venture between the Seddon Family Trust and Rick Burke, plus a further 50ha owned by Rick.

The farming entity began in 1978 when Tauranga doctor Derry Seddon and his wife Jenny bought 40ha. Farm purchases and lifestyle block sales have been part of the farm’s development over 30 years. Derry passed away in 2012 and now the combined properties are farmed by Rick and Jan as one unit to provide an economic and sustainable block. Since the initial Land Environment Plan was devised in 1995, and with the assistance of Bay of Plenty Regional Council, riparian margins have been progressively retired from grazing. The retired land has been planted with a mix of native trees and exotic timber. Now over 110ha of riparian or very steep previously marginal land is in bush, streams or wetlands and is not being grazed. The effective farm area is now 212ha and there are 28ha in plantation forestry – pines, redwoods and Cyprus lusitanica.

Pukekauri Farms carries 3220 stock units at over 15 SU/ha.

Rick Burke and Jan Loney as Pukekauri Farms were the supreme award winners of the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards for the Bay of Plenty region. They also won four awards: Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award, Waterforce Integrated Management Award, Donaghys Farm Stewardship Award and a Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environment Award. Pukekauri had entered twice before, in 2003 and 2010 and had previously picked up a number of awards.

This time the judges praised the “outstanding riparian and marginal land planting which looks stunning and greatly enhances biodiversity”. They were also impressed with the excellent production being achieved on the rest of the farm.

Rick’s number one goal is to obtain the best possible return per kilogram of dry matter grown and brought onto the farm. The pasture production across the farm now averages 12 tonnes dry matter a year, off the predominantly Waihi ash soils under 1900mm rainfall.

Terrain is 75% easy to rolling and 25% steep.

Farm income comes 44% from dairy grazing, 33% bull beef and 22% sheep, including wool.

Rick has four regular dairy grazing clients. The main one contributes weaned heifer calves in the spring which are taken through to 22 months and returned to the dairy herd as in-calf heifers. Other clients send rising one-year heifers from May until May.

On Pukekauri Farms, the retirement of weed and erosion-prone land has simplified management and resulted in an increase in production and profitability from the grazed areas. Protecting and planting streams has also reduced flooding and erosion. Wetlands have been a priority for retirement over the last 28 years, so nutrient run off is minimized and damage in extreme weather events is reduced by the trickle effect.

Three rivers and some major streams cross the property. Over 100 stock water troughs have been installed in nearly every paddock and the stock cross waterways using bridges.

Reactive phosphate rock (RPR) is now used to avoid leaching and the riparian strips provide buffer zones along waterways. Nitrogen as Sustain (to reduce ammonia loss) is used strategically if required in autumn and in spring. It is applied to dry ground just before rain to minimize losses. Any cultivation for pasture renovation is done without tillage, for undersowing annual ryegrasses and adding herbs, chicory and subterranean red clover.

The flip side of land retirement is that pastoral land can be managed more intensively by identifying the land use areas that deliver profitability. The farm is consistently in the top 10% of North Island drystock properties for returns.

Pukekauri Farms runs over 3000 stock units at a stocking rate of more than 15/ha. The largest stock class is 400-plus dairy heifers being grazed for dairy farmers. They come on at two ages – the largest group as three-month weaners and the rest as one-year heifers. All are mated and returned to their owners as rising two-year in-calf heifers.

When pasture is short Rick has been supplementing the bulls and heifers with palm kernel, fed in towable troughs when mobs move paddocks. This saves energy and reduces soil compaction by not using silage as fodder. When the grass quality gets poor in summer, up to 5-6kg/head/day of PK is fed. That has made bull grazing more flexible, allowing greater numbers to be kept in the spring flush because grass is not being harvested for silage.

During the year a maximum of just over 200 bulls are on the farm. Half of the bulls are bought as 100kg calves and grown through to 500 – 550kg live weight for the bull beef market. The liveweight targets are 250kg by May1, 350kg by September 1 and to finish at 550kg by February 1 aged 18 months. The other bulls are bought strategically through late winter to early spring to take care of spring grass surpluses. They are then sold in January as store bulls to a finisher. Bulls and heifers are complementary stock classes because when bulls are up to weight they can be progressively slaughtered, freeing up pasture for the heifers.

An elite flock of 400 Coopworth and cross-bred ewes is run on steeper country through winter and early spring with the aim of maximizing their genetic potential.  A small number of stud Suffolk ewes are kept to breed rams both for replacements and for selling.

Rick is keen to point out that working through a Land Environment Plan for the first time might seem daunting but provides plenty of farming opportunities. “It’s a way of pulling on the handbrake and taking stock, working out the land classes and capabilities and matching them to livestock classes. I find you can then do fencing for greater subdivision pivoting off the protection fencing and get productivity increases.”