Steve Wyn-Harris, communicator and farmer
Steve Wyn-Harris has combined sheep and beef farming, Coopworth sheep breeding, farm forestry, hosting a twice-weekly radio show and writing a weekly column for farming newspapers, for which he has received many awards. He is a born communicator and loves talking about farming and life’s challenges, rewards and mishaps.
Steve and his wife Jane began farming in Central Hawke’s Bay in 1983, after Steve graduated from Lincoln with a Bachelor of Commerce (Agricultural) and have subsequently expanded the property from 180ha to 360ha (320ha in pasture and the balance (11%) in forestry, tree crops and shelter). They have three sons, Jason, Hugh and Matt. The livestock farming operations are a high-performance Coopworth sheep stud (total sheep comprise 65% of stock units) and dairy bulls for beef (35%).
Steve has worked in agricultural media for more than 20 years, in both radio and print. He has hosted The Local Cockies Hour, on Central FM radio, (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12 noon to 1pm) since 1998. The role involves locating and organising eight interviewees each week, interviewing them usually live and at the same time managing the technology and broadcast itself. He has done a weekly slot on The Country on Newstalk ZB stations with Jamie MacKay, covering farming, politics and sport for 15 years.
He also chats with Jessie Mulligan on National Radio every six to eight weeks, on city questions regarding farming and rural life. That is what Steve considers his most useful media work for the primary sector, bringing greater understanding between urban and rural communities.
He has written a weekly column for farming newspapers since 1996, firstly the NZ Farmer, then Straight Furrow and most recently The New Zealand Farmers Weekly, always under the tag line “From the Ridge”. Mostly these are comments on seasonal and political matters affecting agriculture, sometimes about his family. One with a big impact was about the time when Steve thought he had turned his back and lost a son in a farm dam and his terror in trying to find the supposedly drowned boy, only to have him reappear on land from a hidden place. Steve was awarded the Landcorp Agricultural Communicator of the Year in 2012.
The Wyn-Harris farm was a Meat and Wool NZ Monitor Farm from 2000 to 2004, after winning several local awards in the 1990s. The property is also used as a show farm to promote a positive view of NZ agriculture with visits from the likes of foreign journalists and visitors, supermarket meat importers and politicians, including four cabinet ministers, and was featured on Country Calendar in 2012.
Steve served six years on the board of Landcorp (2002-8) and nine years, or three terms, as an elected director of Farmlands Co-op.
In 2004 Steve was Hawke’s Bay Farmer of the Year and in 2011, Steve and Jane won the inaugural East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Supreme Award. In 2013 he was Hawke’s Bay Farm Forester of the Year, and in 2014 was declared an individual making a difference to the NZ sheep industry at the NZ Sheep Industry Awards.
The Marlow Coopworth sheep stud was formed by Steve’s parents in 1968 when the breed was established and continues to this day. The objectives are mainstream for the breed – growth, meat and survival, as fertility is now very high and locked in. The stud ewes number 320, along with 1100 to 1200 commercial Coopworth ewes, and the performance of the sheep is similar in both stud and the commercial flock. Scanning of lambs in-utero is over 200% and the number of lambs born per ewes mated is over 160%.
The challenge in the central HB environment is to get as many commercial lambs as possible sent to processing in prime condition at weaning, beginning about 13 weeks after target lambing date of August 1. This 2019 season Steve is in good shape with feed covers and the high and steady lamb schedule price of $9/kg CW means he has less anxiety about finishing lambs early before the grass runs out and can wait a little longer for weights to go up. A weaning draft of 480 lambs at 17.1kg averaged $151 net.
Last season had a poor spring and he still managed 50% of lambs away at weaning, off the mothers, which is the most efficient way of producing prime lambs for his one-man farming operation. His best figure has been 76% of lambs dispatched at weaning, a commendable performance from the majority of ewes that have twins. To achieve that live weight at weaning the lambs have to be gaining 250-300g/day from birth.
All unit loads of lambs go to the local Takapau Silver Fern Farms plant and after being picked up in the early morning are generally processed by midday.
The early drafts average 17kg CW and the ones later in the season are 18-20kg. Mixed-age commercial ewes are bred to Poll Dorset rams for terminal lambs, both male and female. Lambs have to be 33-34kg LW minimum at weaning to go to the works.
Technologies are employed on farm such as ultrasound and CT scanning, EID tagging and genetic testing seeking genes of interest and identifying unwanted genes.
Showdown Productions Ltd – Rural Delivery Series 15 2020