Long lease builds top business

Josh Jamieson and his family have made a comfortable living from the bounty of the Marlborough Sounds. But it’s taken a fair amount of hard work and entrepreneurship.

By Joanna Grigg.

In Livestock13 Minutes

Josh Jamieson’s father Talbot was a pioneer mussel farmer, setting up mussel lines in Pelorus Sound in the 1970s. This brought the family into the drowned valleys of the ‘top of the south’, and it was here that Josh first learned to drive a boat and muster the steep hills around the beaches.

Josh left school at 15 with a plan to work on farms and build his knowledge. Luckily his first employer was the late Tim Shand, a farmer in Port Ligar. Josh describes him as a great teacher and respected friend who taught him to enjoy farming.

By age 20, Josh had the confidence to take on his first lease block – one of the Harvey family’s blocks in Clova Bay. He bought 700 ewes and 40 cattle and ran the block alongside his new job as a casual shepherd at nearby Manaroa.

By the time Josh was 28 (2003), he was offered the job to manage Manaroa. This Clova Bay farm had a great mix of flats and hill, a good jetty and, most importantly, supportive owners. The 400 effective hectare (ha) area in Pelorus Sound, at the end of the Kenepuru access road, is owned by Prue Jackson (nee Rodgers). The Rodgers family also owns a farm, Ellerton, in Kekerengu (north of Kaikoura).

Two years later, in 2005, a lease offer was put on the table. Josh said it was a generous offer that started low to help him get going.

“It was a really good deal at the start, then has increased over time.”

Eighteen years later, the farm is in good heart, with regular weed control and fertiliser programmes and an enthusiastic lessee.

Out of earnings, Josh started subdividing paddocks and regrassing the flatter blocks. He has used some joint venture earnings and off-farm investments for further leverage and now owns a couple of blocks as well.

“The trick is to stay keen and focus on what you are good at and find someone to back you.”

Josh Jamieson and Kate Hutterd at Manaroa.

Climate advantage

Josh and his partner Kate Hutterd have recently added another lease block, in nearby Waitaria Bay. This 50ha block has meant all steer calves can be finished prime by 18 to 20 months. The climate is so benign that in the first year of finishing the steers grew more than one kilogram every day, even all through winter.

Josh says the winter was two frosts and a couple of foggy days.

“The stock agent asked us, ‘how do you do that?’ but it’s just that we don’t have that 50-day cold winter.”

Summer was a stunner with 2000mm of timely rain. Growth was fantastic, as long as parasites were limited.

All up, 4350 stock units of sheep, cattle and deer (for velvet) are run at an impressive stocking rate of 9.7/ha. As Kate and Josh are the only labour, the stags are limited to 120 (300 stock units). They are the best returning stock class, cutting 8-9kg of velvet and making $247/stock unit (su).

“But we can’t be in the deer shed all day, every day, in spring,” Josh said.

Josh said to be wary of expensive lease costs.

“Often people ask way too much for land – driven up by dairy farm competition typically.”

The couple has a young daughter Willow who attends Waitaria School.

Greg Sheppard, Sheppard Agriculture, ran a comparison of Manaroa revenue estimates for the 2023/24 season (including cattle finishing) against the Beef + Lamb NZ Class 6 equivalent.

Speaking at the Marlborough Beef + Lamb NZ Farming for Profit field day recently, he said the production and profitability was good. The farm’s operating surplus was expected to be well above the equivalent economic service farm in 2022/23 ($726 vs $349/ha). Cattle are estimated to be earning an impressive $158/su next season – $20 ahead of the comparable Class 6 farm.

Costs are kept low (wages of labour is excluded). Shearing costs are half that of Class 6 farm average. Josh said this was because he used a freelance shearer and did all the penning up, pressing and providing food.

They also don’t shear lambs until late January, so most are sold before shearing.

Feed costs are also a fraction of the average.

Neighbour Mike Gerard, Hopai farm, told the field day his neighbour Josh was known as being “tinny” with his luck.

“The sun always shines at Manaroa when the shearers turn up.”

A fair bit of clever planning, hard work and good luck is a winning combination.

Finishing at 18-20 months

Josh has built his 110 herd of cows from 40 Angus heifers.

He won’t deviate from Angus.

“They handle what we give them and fatten much faster than the dairy cross cattle we tried.”

He rates them ahead of sheep and next season he expects his cattle to make more income per stock unit than sheep.

“Cattle are way easier to run and more economical.”

Bulls are chosen using EBVs with a preference for positive fat, low mature body weight and calving ease. The main stud bulls used have been from Mt Linton (Josh knew the manager there) and also Meadowslea, Fairlie.

“My theory is that a bull that is born into a 150-day winter will have progeny that love being here in the Marlborough Sounds.”

Rising One year heifers have not been mated in the past, although this year, 10 were put to the bull and all are in calf.

“I’ve never had to pull a calf from a cow.”

They are after a moderate cow size.

Cows calve starting mid-September and are weaned early March. Calves are kept yarded for two days alongside their mothers, then the cows are walked away.

Josh and Kate run 1600 stock units of cattle all up and this includes the 120 young cattle on the 50ha lease block, an hour’s droving away at Waitaria Bay. Josh’s dad, Talbot, lives on site and is happy to shift the cattle every day.

The fast rotation has allowed all yearling steers and cull heifers to be grown on to 300kg carcaseweight (CW) by 18 to 20 months. The first go prime by March. Feed costs are low as they only get one medium square balage a day (made on farm) and pastures are permanent, not cropping.

In July 2021 a storm did major damage to the main truck and trailer access road (Kenepuru Road). This meant all stock had to be transported to Havelock by barge from near Waitaria Bay – a four-hour trip. In August 2022, the weather struck again and the road was even more damaged, making it only suitable for utes with a trailer. Access is restricted to residents and plans for full repair – if at all – are still to be decided.

Meat company helps with access

The barge costs about $540/hour and the truck and trailer cost is on top of that. It can cost up to $4000 for a trip in and out. Meat company Alliance has come to the party, helping out with barge transport costs in return for local farmers committing to send prime stock to Alliance. About 30,000 local stock units go to Alliance.

Josh said almost all local farmers supplied Alliance now and it made sense to support them as they can take stock when they needed to offload.

They value the relationship and have sold to Alliance for the past 10 years.

Having financial support to get prime stock out is another incentive for Josh and Kate to move to selling prime stock. They averaged $1700/steer last season. The cattle meet the Angus Premium requirements, Josh said, which gives them another 30c/kg CW.

“It’s another $90 for a steer, which helps.”

Josh would like to try to get their cattle into the Handpicked Alliance programme but this requires a stock agent to visit and select animals. The requirement to get a barge load and tie it in with killing on a certain day each week, plus agent travel costs, creates issues with this, Josh said.

“Our stock sometimes have to be held in Canterbury and then go to Pukeuri.”

Lambs are now also sold prime, with the first weaned cut killing at 18kg carcaseweight at 10 weeks.

Speaking at the B+LNZ field day, general manager livestock at Alliance Murray Behrent said it was critical to have good transport systems to ensure top animal welfare.

“The co-operative is happy to wear the cost of the barge at the moment to make it worthwhile for both farmers and the company.”

An analysis of stock movements shows most stock goes out of the Sounds December to April.

The extra transport cost for stock means the Jamiesons have moved away from bringing in store lambs to finish. Extra returns are being sought by lambing hoggets this year. They have an impressive survival rate with Josh saying lambing percentage (ewes mated to lambs weaned) is sitting at 145% from a scanning of 165%. Rams are Piquet Hill and Wairere Romneys, selected for facial eczema tolerance.

Soil fertility has lifted from a pH of 5.2 to 5.8 and Olsen P of 10-15 to 20-30. Fertiliser costs are about $200/ha – with transport costs pushing it high. Josh admits he likes lime, but speaking at the field day, Ravensdown’s Dr Ants Roberts led a discussion on getting the best return on a limited fertiliser budget.

He said it was more important to put P and S on than lime short term.

But Josh said they would be lost without initial lime applications.

“We wouldn’t be fattening stock.”