Landcorp Waitepeka Farm

June 2013
Landcorp's Waitepeka Farm at Balclutha is leading the game environmentally and educationally in its goal of farming for profitability and sustainability.

Peter and Helen Gilder have worked for Landcorp for 23 years, originally at Dawson Downs, a sheep beef and deer finishing property between Balclutha and Clinton.

Situated southeast of Balclutha on the Owaka Scenic Highway, Waitepeka was originally a smaller sheep breeding property. The Gilders came to the farm having been asked first to convert it into a finishing block, then in 2002 to oversee the creation of two dairy units. Staff management and training is a huge part of the job and students from Telford Rural Polytechnic, a division of Lincoln Universtiy, also benefit from learning farming skills under Peters supervision. Peter and Helen are committed to biodiversity protection on the farm and have their own nursery and an annual budget for plantings. They have encouraged younger students to connect with the farm and understand the importance of biodiversity protection through an ongoing Arbor Day planting programme organised with the local primary school. Waitepeka has seven areas of native bush and wetland in QEII National Trust and DOC covenants totalling 15.6 ha. The Gilders and Landcorp were also winners of the Otago Supreme Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2011, the LIC Dairy Farm and PGG Wrightson Land and Life awards. They have also won the Landcorp Outstanding Contribution award in 2010 and the Agriculture ITO Farmer Trainer of the Year in 2009/10.

The southernmost Landcorp farm, Waitepeka is made up of three separate farms integrated together. It includes two dairy units, Dunns Dairy and Landsdown Dairy, and Waitepeka Dry Stock, which runs deer, sheep and cattle.

One dairy farm is 220ha, the other has a milking platform of 328ha, and together they milk 1600 cows. There is 260ha of dairy support adjacent to the milking platforms, which is used to grow silage and run young stock. Then there is an 800ha area with 450ha deer fenced, where 900 to 1000 hinds are run and their progeny finished. Depending on the season they also buy in another 400 to 600 weaners for finishing. Each year 1500 deer are killed.

They have more than 300 finishing cattle, half of which go to Five Star Beef. The ewe flock of 1000 breeding ewes is high performance at a lambing percentage of 150% plus, and they buy in another 1500 lambs for finishing to an average of 19.5kg.

They also run 700 replacement dairy cattle and have 80 bulls used to follow up after AI. Approximately 600 cows are wintered on 70ha of crops, and 800 to 1000 of the cows are wintered off the farm.

Peter and Helen are both passionate environmentalists and in 2011, the first time they entered, they won the supreme Otago prize in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, along with the PGG Wrightson Land and Life awards and the LIC Dairy Farm award.

They are enthusiastic about involving the community and young people in agriculture, and work with the local Romahapa School and Telford to educate and encourage students to get into agribusiness.

When the Gilders first came to Waitepeka they began a large development programme to drain land, regrass and fence. Peter says: "At one stage we had 200 gates to swing, so I went to Telford and suggested it might be a good opportunity for the students. They had a fencing tutor, and that's how our involvement with Telford started."

The students also helped build two sets of cattle yards, including pouring the concrete and putting the rails on. As Telford has changed they recognised they couldn't give all the students practical education on their own farm, so started sending students out to work experience on farms throughout Otago and Southland where they are able to experience different farming practices.

Students get dropped off on a Sunday evening and picked up on Friday evening, so farmers have them for a whole week. "Our two dairy managers take students, and sometimes they have one each a week. Because Telford is right next door the students can stay there and commute." Peter says.

Dunns Dairy also have a diploma student and they carry out a complete study of the farm covering all aspects and present a completed document of the gathered information for marking at the end of the year. Over the course of the year they work something like 10 weeks on their host farms.

It's a good opportunity for the Gilders as they employ students after graduating, as well as for the holidays.

Telford also uses Waitepeka for extension work. The farm runs 80 bulls, and the students have to be proficient in different modules, so small groups come to work with the bulls, collecting them from the paddock, walking them down the road with stock signs, and working with them in the yards.

"We teach them basic skills and health and safety, and then they walk the bulls back to their paddock." The students also study the effluent systems at the dairy units.

Peter, who was a Telford student himself, says learning with the students is a two-way thing. "We really need them in the industry."

Helen enjoys sowing the seed about the industry and environmental work with the local school students.

"We really need to start educating careers advisors, teachers and parents that agriculture is an okay career." For example she is promoting one of the farm's wetlands to local schools and to Telford to use it as an outdoor classroom. She would like ecology students from Otago University to use it as a learning tool too.

And since they won the Ballance Award, their connections with the wider industry have snowballed including with the Otago Regional Council and Fonterra.

As they started developing the farm they wanted to protect the totara forest and wetlands for the future, which meant they had to be fenced, as did the extensive drains.

"We both have a vision that everything we have fenced off is to be planted." This also helps make stock-work more user friendly.

The first year they planted 8km of poplar poles using cuttings from friends, but now take cuttings in their own nursery. They have also planted eucalypts, willows and native species. "We still have lots of planting to do within those areas."

There are seven areas of native bush and wetlands in QEII National Trust and Department of Conservation covenants, making up 15.6ha. They have 9ha of pine plantations, 15km of riparian fencing on the Glenomaru and Puerua rivers, and a massive 486km of fencing on both sides of drainage ditches.

The heavy clay and peat soils are a challenge on the farm, especially when in any month more than 100mm of rain can fall. This year in the first two weeks of January they had 130mm of rain.

Throughout their milking platforms are 243km of narrow open drains, which are emptied into the river using three big pumps. The river is tidal, fluctuating a metre with the tides. Although they are 10km from the sea, the farm is at sea level.

So to help soak up the run-off, they are planting thousands of trees along the double-fenced drains. They like the Moutere willow which has a conical shape, and is fine leaved. It leafs up early and holds for a longer period, it can stand the damp or dry, is suitable for erosion areas, and it's a great tree for bees.

Helen says these trees are a good solution for a lot of dairy farms. They plant 1000 rooted plants and wands of willows using a crowbar. Each year they take 2000 to 3000 cuttings. They are planted about two metres apart and a similar distance from the fences in a single row along the steep-sided peat drains.

"In other places I am putting a bit more variety in with flaxes and toetoe and cabbage trees. You don't need to spend a lot of money to get plantings going."

Helen is also an advocate for the Escalator course run by the Agri-women's Development Trust. She attended the second course in 2012, and says it gave her more confidence and belief she could make a difference and encourage other people into the industry.