Harwood Family Farms

June 2016

Diversity in a Golden Bay family farming operation

The Harwood family has farmed in Takaka since the beginning of the last century. Prior to that, great-grandfather Harwood was a lighthouse keeper on Farewell Spit, and a family joke is that when he was coming back from Nelson on a horse he saw a pub for sale with 1000 acres so he bought it on the spot with his wife’s inheritance. Then a day’s ride back home gave him time to work out how he was going to tell his devout Presbyterian wife that she was a publican!

Today the Harwood farm is a large and diverse business with multiple profit centres each of which makes the most of the advantages of the property. It includes breeding ewes, breeding cows, deer, a dairy unit, dairy cattle grazing, store lamb finishing, a pine plantation, native bush areas in QEII Covenants, wetlands, a hydro-electric generation plant and an area set aside for aerials and antennae for radio, cellphones, radio telephone and TV transmitters. The area is just over 2000ha effective including a block on the north-west coast where lambs are finished and dairy cattle are wintered.

The main farm ranges from relatively flat valley floor to spectacularly steep hillsides that lead to the top of the Takaka Hill. Of the 570ha flat area, about half is the dairy unit and the other half is for the deer, although other stock may be grazed there from time to time. Most of it is irrigated, either centre pivot or K-line. Around 50l per second is taken from the Takaka River to irrigate 85 ha and 90l per second comes from the Waitui stream, a small water course that emerges from a limestone area and runs all year round. This stream also supplies the hydro station.

The dairy platform of about 280ha effective supports a herd of 920 Kiwicross cows, calving from 5 August and dried off about 31 May. Annual rainfall is around 1800mm in the area but most falls between autumn and November and summers are usually dry. Nigel Harwood, great-grandson of the original owner and director of the family owned company, says that supplementary feeds like PKE and barley are very expensive to bring into Golden Bay so stock are fed mainly on grass boosted by carefully controlled irrigation that allows them to maintain production at around 390kgMS per cow.

“About 75% of the dairy platform is irrigated but even so our covers can come under pressure in the summer months so we typically run a conservative stocking rate of just over three cows per hectare to avoid having to buy in supplements in the middle of the season,” he says.

“This past spring was probably the hardest one we have ever had to farm through. It was cold and dry, so that cut our growth back more into line with our stocking rate. We are a bit elevated here and that means our feed comes in a bit later in spring. We normally avoid a huge surplus by holding back on nitrogen and use only what is needed to match grass growth to demand. This season we have also increased fodder beet from 5ha last year to about 80ha, and we typically grow 25ha of brassicas as well.”

Fertiliser input based on soil tests and nutrient plans is carefully controlled and applied little and often to maximise uptake. About 176 units of N per ha are applied annually. Phosphate is applied four times per year to minimise risk of high rain fall events washing fertiliser off the Pakihi soil, which does not retain P like other soils.

In 2006 the Harwoods started looking at how they could get more water for the dairy farm. At that time it consisted of a 200 ha platform with only 85 ha irrigated. In 2008 they built an intake with a large settling pond and screen and ran 1.8 km of 400mm PVC pipe to the irrigation pump.

“This fed five centre pivots and some K-line irrigation and that took us up to 240 ha irrigated. Then in 2012 we ran a further 750 m of pipe to a power station with a 100 kW turbine generator,” says Nigel.

“However, the friction losses in the 400mm pipe meant that the generator wasn’t operating at its rated capacity, so last December we completed putting in 2200m of 1000mm pipe and that has allowed it to generate the full 100 kW when enough water is available.”

“We can both generate and irrigate at the same time when we have enough water, so currently (February) we are irrigating at night and generating about 25 kW. Then when the irrigation is switched off in the morning the power goes up to about 65 kW. It means we are generating as much as possible during the day while the spot price is high, and then at night when irrigation is most beneficial and the power is cheaper we switch over.”

“We can do that only when the evaporation rates drop, so we have installed 12 soil moisture sensors across the whole dairy farm under the pivots and monitor them three times a day to see where the water is sitting. Power prices have been quite high recently and it is good to be able to generate when prices are high, but if we have some hot weather we might have to have a couple of days of 24-hour irrigation and no power generation.”

“The total investment in the generation scheme is about $1.6 million so we want to maximise output, but at this time of year we don’t have a lot of water. At present we are getting just 90l per second and we need 280 to 300l to go full out on the turbine and that is why when irrigation is turned off we are generating only about 65 kW. It’s a run of the river scheme so it makes more money in the winter.”

The soil moisture sensors are linked to a computer that controls the irrigation system so that application rates can be varied according to need. When possible, irrigation takes place at night when both evaporation rates and power costs are lower.

On half of the flats the farm runs 1050 red deer hinds and 160 R2s that are artificially inseminated through Deer Improvement. All progeny are finished on the property and sold where possible into the chilled market through Silver Fern Farms.

A flock of 3100 Romney ewes is run set stocked on fairly steep country. They are mated to Romney sires, and lambing starts 20th September. Typically around 4500 lambs (135 – 140%) are weaned in December and sent to the coastal property for finishing and sale the following October. Harwoods also buy in 3500 store lambs for similar finishing.

They have a herd of 80 Hereford cows and rear the bulls for mating to their dairy herd and for the dairy sire market. They also rear about 100 selected bull calves from the dairy herd and buy in weaned calves, making a total of 150 – 200 depending on the season

The drystock area winters 700 dairy cows every year. There is 120ha of pine forest on the property.

When the TV first came into the Golden Bay in the 60s some local enthusiasts got together and put a tower and generator on the top of the Takaka Hill on Harwood property.

“Communications weren’t too good in this area so they put up a small radio transmitter, and not long after that, the NZBS put up a big aerial there. Now Telecom has an 027 microwave linking station up there and Chorus’s fibre cable comes through our property as well,” says Nigel. “We run our own little tower up there for local radio stations and for people who want radiotelephone communications.”

The Harwood’s property has over 500 ha in native bush, mostly unfenced. Of this, a QEII covenant includes 260 on top of the Takaka Hill and 200 ha on the coastal property. The remainder is fenced bush blocks, riparian areas and wetlands inside the farm boundary.

Nigel says they try to mitigate negative environmental impacts of farming where they can. On-farm practices generally exceed industry minimums in relation to effluent and nutrient management, riparian planting and stock crossings. The work he is most proud of includes the nutrient sinks or constructed wetlands on the non-permanent waterways along with the constructed wetlands and weirs below the effluent ponds. He believes these initiatives are critical to lessening the farm’s impact on the environment.

“It’s a simple question of how we can slow down our runoff to give the environment a chance to deal with it,” he says.