Roselle Farm on Otago Peninsula

November 2016

Brendan Cross farms on the Otago Peninsula and is mindful of those who live and visit there

Sixth generation Otago farmer Brendon Cross and his wife Paula were the supreme award winners of the 2016 Ballance Farm Environment Awards for Otago Province. They farm 818ha (613ha effective) of owned and leased land around the Portobello district at the end of the Otago Peninsula with 4900 stock units, being 95% Romney sheep. The judges said they exemplify the successful combination of farming and environmental care in a busy semi-urban community close to Dunedin.

The family connection with farming on the Otago Peninsula began in 1863, when Brendon’s great, great, great-grandfather James McCartney bought 20ha on Weir Rd, Portobello district. It initially ran milking cows for cream and for skim milk for pigs. Successive generations added more land and in 1957, Roselle Farm became a sheep farming business, which Brendon took over aged 21 on the untimely death of his father Ron, in 1995. Mother Annette still lives on the property. Paula is a school teacher at Broad Bay School. The couple have teenaged children, Thomas and Hannah, who are seventh generation Otago Peninsula residents.

Roselle Farm is now 200ha and the four lease properties are all within 5km. Sandymount is 160ha, leased from the Murray family, and Herewaka/Harbour Cone is 340ha, leased from Dunedin City Council since 2008. Two smaller blocks adjoining Herewaka were leased from 2011 and 2012 onwards. Herewaka was purchased by the council to preserve outstanding landscape, ecological, cultural and recreational values. It has five walking tracks accessible at all times by the public and is adjacent to Larnach’s Castle tourist attraction.

The farming operations have 38 neighbours, a mix of rural, lifestyle and urban, and Brendon is always mindful that many sets of eyes are on farming operations. Leasing land enables Brendon to employ a full-time worker and add scale to the home farm. He treats leased blocks as though he owned them, aiming to hand them back in better condition. There are no persistent problems with members of the public, but some occasional incidents.

A big proportion of farm land on Roselle and the lease blocks, is categorised as steep hill country, most suitable for sheep. It is also exposed to sea, wind and drought influence because the peninsula is a maximum of 7km wide, from Portobello to Cape Saunders, and contains two large inlets, Papanui and Hoppers. The annual rainfall is 750mm and the elevation ranges from sea level to 400m ASL.

Terrain does not lend itself to cultivation so pastures are unimproved. Brendon makes 10ha of baleage annually as insurance for the dry summers, mainly for feeding cattle.

Roselle Farm business carries 4000 Romney ewes and replacements and achieves around 140% lamb survival to weaning. The Crosses have a commercial agreement with Hamish and Amy Bielski, Clinton, South Otago, for finishing lambs to slaughter. Lambs not required as breeding replacements are sent to the Bielskis at weaning (60%) or soon after. Weights are recorded as they leave the peninsula and a portion of the slaughter price comes back to the Crosses after finishing. Brendon said this was a good relationship between lamb breeder and finisher. “No matter what the market is doing, the finisher will always make a margin and we will always make a fair price.” Lambs have to be sent away in store condition because the peninsula farmland gets very dry in summer. The finishers also had input to what terminal sires are used over the Roselle ewes.

Breeding rams come from Te Whangai Romneys, Wairarapa Romney Improvement Group, by the de Latour family. They aim to breed efficient, easy-care ewes that lamb 150%, producing lambs that average more than 30kg at weaning. Brendon runs an A flock for breeding purposes, mostly self-contained on the Sandymount block, and the B flock on Harbour Cone block, which is mated to terminal sires. The home farm at Lower Portobello carries young stock, hoggets and two-tooths. Ewes are all spread out for lambing. There are three sets of yards and woolshed, on Roselle, Harbour Cone and Sandymount.

The mix of settlement and farming on the Otago Peninsula, its closeness to Dunedin and the tourist attractions, combined to provide the opportunity for the local biodiversity group, of which Brendon is chairman. Possum eradication is the first target and 10,000 possums have been killed already, at no cost to landowners, all done with contestable funding.

The BFEA judges commented, “Brendon and Paula are both committed to a vision of a better understanding of rural life and work for urban people. This is reflected in their involvement in many of the local community activities and the access they provide to children and students to visit and learn from the farm.”

Brendon and Paula have had QEII National Trust covenants placed on two blocks of regenerating native bush, totalling 5ha. A half hectare area they recognised as a habitat for the seriously endangered Jewelled Gecko is to be predator fenced and planted with support from the Gecko Trust.