Profit Partnership at Mt Watkins Station

October 2016

Taking care of productivity and the environment at Mt Watkins Station

David and Sarah Smith are part of the Red Meat Profit Partnership pilot programme – an initiative looking at driving sustainable productivity improvements in the sheep and beef farms in collaboration with industry and MPI.

David and his wife Sarah farm Mt Watkins, a hill country property inland from Waikouaiti. The property is 1400ha and runs about 4200 ewes, 1150 hoggets and in a good year around 450 bulls. Bull numbers drop in tough seasons, offering flexibility.

In 2015, the Smiths became part of the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) processor programme. They were among a group of five Anzco Foods suppliers in Otago and Southland who joined the programme with the idea of identifying areas they wanted to focus on specific to their business. The idea was to work with the processors to plug into what the market wanted and at the same time look at what improvements could be made on farm to achieve those goals.

Activities ranged from workshops with rural experts on tasks ranging from body condition scoring, using software for feed budgeting, soils, forage and nutrition through to one-on-one sessions.

Farmers went on tours to look at other farm businesses and pilot programme members were also brought up to Wellington to meet members of the programme from all around the country.

David says meeting some of New Zealand’s top performing farmers has been inspirational. He says getting involved in the programme looked like a good idea as they were open to making changes to their business. It was good timing, as they had already made some changes and they welcomed the opportunity to get access to such expertise.

David’s wife Sarah had already done some courses via the Agri-Women’s Development Trust and is close to finishing a diploma in Agribusiness Management and the couple could see the potential in their farm.

The RMPP’s Pilot Farms programme is now into its second year.

Among the targets they set themselves were improving soil fertility, getting better lambing percentages and lambing weights and lifting bull weights.

They took the step of getting full-farm soil tests to establish a base fertility.

They took a large number of samples across the farm. David says that step saved them between $50,000 and $60,000 in fertiliser costs. The initial outlay for the tests showed that they had better fertility than they thought in some areas of the farm and they could be a lot more strategic with what fertiliser they did apply.

The couple has changed from breeding replacements to purchasing Romdale and some Perendale ewe lambs and putting all the ewes to a terminal sire.

That policy change meant the kill date moved forward by one month and a significant increase in the average kill rate.

David says changing sheep breed and policy has been a good move.

Their goal was for 150% lambing, with an average 19kg lamb weight, and to have all lambs off the property by 1st April.

Bull beef was another target. They sourced 450 Friesian bulls every year (although that number is down to 200 this year because of drought.) Average liveweight was 350kg-400kg. Their target was to add another 30kg liveweight on each animal.

To do that they looked at feed management using electronic identification tags to record weights of animals at regular weigh-ins and use that information to try and target the best feed for weight gain.

David and Sarah were part of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2014, winning farm stewardship and livestock awards and an energy excellence award. They say entering the awards was a good way of benchmarking.

The farm has been facing an extended period of below average rainfall.

In 2011 they had built a large dam near the top of the farm to store and supply farm water. Prior to that they were pumping river water. The new system is more reliable and offers savings in electricity.

They have a QEII covenant protecting a wetland on the farm.

The Smiths have fenced off 2.3km of river boundary along the north branch of the Waikouaiti River. This work was started before the Otago Regional Council launched a regional water plan which puts the onus on landowners to take responsibility for water quality leaving their properties.