Rakaia Inc & Hororata Dairy 3
A young couple building a career in dairying for a Maori Incorporation in Canterbury
Glenn Jones and his employer, the Proprietors of the Rakaia Incorporation, share the same priorities – looking after the land and recognising the importance of long-term investment in people.
Glenn grew up on a family dairy farm at Geraldine, just over 100km from where he’s farming today. After completing a BComm in Agriculture at Lincoln University, he worked on sheep, beef and lamb finishing properties and a ranch in Canada before recognising that a return to dairying was the best way to achieve his personal and financial goals.
The Hororata Dairy 3 farm Glenn manages is the third property bought by the Proprietors of Rakaia Incorporated, a hapu-based company with approximately 400 shareholders who are the descendants of the 27 families that formed the original Incorporation.
Purchased in June 2017, the 184ha property had been converted in 2008. Glenn explains it is a young but high quality herd of 650 Friesian-cross cows, with 520 rising 3 and 4-year-olds in the mix. Cows are milked through a 40 a-side herringbone shed and milk is sent to Synlait at nearby Dunsandel.
The aim is to produce 450kg of milk solids per cow, with the emphasis on efficiency. “Production is vanity, profit is sanity,” says Glenn quoting his father, now retired but a successful dairy farmer.
Cow fertility and lifetime productivity (the pillars of a new DairyNZ research programme) are priorities for Glenn. Together, underperformance in these areas is estimated to cost the dairy industry $1 billion annually.
“Our aim is a high Breeding Worth (BW) herd that can turn grass into milk and reliably produce progeny,” Glenn says. To achieve this, he is building towards an F8 – F12 (50 to 75%) Friesian-Jersey cow. The decision is based on his personal preference, as well as breed suitability for the low (500-700mm pa) rainfall climate with dry windy summers and cool winters. The herd has an average BW of 93, Production Worth of 115, and herd recorded ancestry of 98%.
When Glenn was offered the position as 50% sharemilker, he jumped at the chance. He loved his previous job as a farm manager for the Camden Group on a property 7.5km down the road but this was an opportunity to grow his capital through herd ownership, while helping to drive the development of a relatively new operation.
There would also be opportunities for Glenn’s fiancée Sarah, a nurse and mother of their young daughter, to contribute health and safety, human resources and administration skills to the business.
The Camden Group supported his decision to leave to grow his skills and business. And he not only took the new job, but three employees decided to make the move as well. “I value staff as part of a team so am pleased those members are still with me.” It’s the little things that make the difference, Glenn says, like a BBQ following a health and safety meeting, full exposure to the business side of the farm, and the availability of training to add value to both their own CVs and the business.
Knowledge, education, experience and upskilling are vital skills for progression, says Glenn. “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to,” he says - quoting Richard Branson.
An industry that once had questions around the treatment of staff now offers some of the better employment opportunities, Glenn says. Health and safety was well up with other industries, and hours have improved.
All staff are on salary (above minimum wage). They work an average eight and a half hour day but are paid for nine hours. A system of three milkings in two days from late January enabled a rotating roster of seven days on, two off, 7 on, then three off, with the starting time rotating between 4.30am, 7.30am and 10.30am.
There is a strong emphasis on health and safety, driven by Sarah. Knowing all too well that farming is hard work and isolating at times, staff are encouraged to take time off or finish early to make the most of sporting, cultural and learning opportunities and commitments. Those with English as a second language are able to leave early on days they have language classes.
Compliance documents are treated as “live” including hazard logs filled out by staff. There’s a strong expectation of feedback if anything is identified as unsafe, as today’s near miss can be tomorrow’s serious accident or even death. Health and safety responsibility is extended from workers to anyone who comes onto the farm. All are given a map, a list of contacts, farm rules and a description of hazards.
The multi-cultural make-up of the dairy industry had its challenges, says Glenn, especially with English being a second language for many. However, there was an upside with the community benefitting from an injection of young people from around the world. Glenn and Sarah have staff from Colombia, Scotland and Ireland. “We encourage our Colombian staff to talk to our daughter in Spanish and one day, would like to travel to South America,” he says.
While employed as a Dairy Farm Manager for the Camden Group, Glenn and Sarah raised calves through to rising one and two-year olds (R1s and R2s) to generate equity. By the time the couple joined Rakaia Inc they owned 240 cows, including in-calf R2s and R3s that were leased out to four farms. The rest of the herd were purchased through an agent, from south of Timaru to Taranaki and the Manawatu. “We were able to put together a young herd in the top 20% breeding group at a good price.”
In their first winter, cows were grazed off-farm on fodder beet. The herd was split so any newbies to fodder beet could make a gradual transition.
Improvements to the property include; an extension to the milking shed; upgrade to the staff accommodation; new fencing and the building of a new calf shed.
A second small centre pivot irrigator was installed, and a fixed grid system with solenoid valves designed to water 22 different zones at targeted rates and times. An existing centre pivot covering 144ha was checked, serviced and re-nozzled to apply a more even spread. Schedules can be changed so water goes on at cooler times of the day and also rates, for example less is applied where effluent has recently been spread.
Almost 95 per cent of the farm is irrigated, with additional shares purchased in the Central Plains Water Scheme which now supplies all the irrigation water. The previous owners drew the majority of their water from deep bore wells. “Long-term, we know Central Plains will reliably give us both run-of-river water from the Rakaia River and stored water from Lake Coleridge,” says Glenn.
A two-year programme of pasture development has begun, with tetraploid ryegrasses direct drilled into predominantly brown-top pastures. The following year these will be sprayed out, the paddocks cultivated and permanent pasture species sown.
Each year 7.5ha of fodder beet will be planted as supplement and for transitioning cows from late March, ready for off-farm winter grazing. “The beets are fantastic low-cost supplement for putting on condition and for late lactation,” says Glenn. This milking season each cow is receiving 600kg of supplement – a mix of silage, grain and palm kernel.
The three milkings in two days regime is working well, and not just for staff. A 25 per cent reduction in the number of times cows went through the shed from January to May saved 25% of electricity and shed chemicals, and effluent to store. As well, with more time in the paddock, cows put on more weight.
Animal welfare is at the top of the list but challenges remain for the dairy industry, Glenn acknowledges. In the unusually hot summer of 2017/2018, dairy farmers got a lot of flak when people saw cows standing in the heat with no trees because macrocarpa and pine shelter belts had been cut down to make way for irrigators. On especially hot days, cows were kept in a paddock where a line of trees provided shade, and milked later in the day when temperatures had dropped.
Being on a busy highway, the farm is a bit of a fishbowl, Glenn acknowledges. Already, Rakaia Inc had started planting native species around the property. Long-term, more planned plantings will increase biodiversity.
While it sometimes gets a bad rap, Glenn says Environment Canterbury was very supportive of their environmental goals. They encouraged planting with native species and have helped develop a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) for the property. Irrigation logs showing the rate and length of time at which water was applied will be checked and water drain-off near water races assessed. Every paddock will be soil-tested annually over the next three years to build an accurate soil fertility map so fertiliser can be applied to precisely meet requirements. It was spread at targeted rates calculated by computers, for maximum uptake with no nutrient runoff.
Fodder crops and winter-active tritocale are not only nutritious but also effective at soaking up nutrients so they don’t end up in waterways. These benefits are not yet built into the Overseer model used to calculate nutrients going into and out of farming systems, but are noted in the Farm Environment Plan, says Glenn.
All farm waste; including consumables, dead cows, scrap metal, plastic silage wrap, and twine are taken of the property and recycled where possible.