Limestone Downs Training and Research Farm

June 2014

Sheep and beef production and training on the historic property of Limestone Downs

Limestone Downs is one of the largest sheep and beef properties in the Waikato that has recently undergone a dairy conversion. The farm was purchased by rubber and tin magnate Charles Alma Baker in 1926 and, since his death, has been managed by C Alma Baker Trust. It is used for research into agricultural development. Each year four young UK farmers are selected and sponsored to work and train on the property. 

The farm is 15 km south of Port Waikato. It is 3,200 hectares of both flat and rolling terrain. In the late 1990s it was running 13,000 sheep, 1200 breeding cows and around 1200 bulls.

When Charles Baker died in 1941 the executors of the will set up a trust to further develop and administer the land. The property is administered by a New Zealand based committee, appointed by the English trustees of the C Alma Baker Estate. That committee was instrumental in a major process of re-development that began in 1981. Unproductive stock was culled and ewe numbers boosted with the buying in of additional replacements. Stock numbers were boosted to around 22,000.

Limestone Downs has had an ongoing association with Massey University. Profits from the farm go to farm research and in return, Massey students and staff invest time and effort in running the farm as effectively as possible. Historically there have been many Massey trials run at Limestone Downs. Currently, Massey University professor Ian Yule, along with 15 research staff, has been using drones and light aircraft to scan the hill country at Limestone Downs Station to develop precision fertiliser applications for hill country.

Alf Harwood has been at Limestone Downs for nearly 30 years, first as stock manager and then manager on the retirement of Warrick Deighton. Chris Barber is the stock manager.

The sponsored UK students are drawn from the ranks of the UK Young Farmers Clubs. They need to be under a certain age to qualify for membership in the Farmer’s Clubs and in practice, most of the applicants are in the younger age bracket. Applicants are screened and approved by the Trust Office in the UK and a list of each year’s students is sent to the manager at Limestone.

Coming to Limestone Downs is apparently a bit of an eye-opener for most farm students from the UK. Most of them have some sort of practical farming experience at home, but farming in New Zealand is easy care in comparison with UK farming practices.