Politics left at the gate

Auckland’s former deputy mayor Bill Cashmore is back on the farm but it’s the next generation running the show, Glenys Christian writes.

In Livestock17 Minutes

Auckland’s former deputy mayor Bill Cashmore is back on the farm but it’s the next generation running the show, Glenys Christian writes.

Fathers and sons farming together don’t always agree on everything. But Bill and Rob Cashmore, who farm on Auckland’s southeast coast, are completely in agreement that the present environment is the most difficult for farmers in the last 40 years.

“I’ve never known the pressures that Rob is now facing,” says Bill, who recently retired from local body politics as Auckland’s deputy mayor.

“You never know what someone is going to dream up.”

Rob and Rachel took over the farm completely last year. They are not leasing but gradually buying shares from his parents Bill and Lynette to eventually buy them out.

The Cashmores run 6000 stock units, with about two-thirds sheep, the rest cattle.

They made the big decision two years ago to cull 120 cows.

“It made me cry but we couldn’t carry on doing what we were doing,” Bill says.

A big flood in 2017 saw many of the farm’s fences demolished by slips, flats unable to be grazed for some time, and since then, summers have become drier and last longer.

“I could count on the fingers of one hand the droughts we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he says.

But two years ago they read the writing on the wall.

“It was getting dry later, right into May and we were getting zero autumn growth,” Rob says.

So, the decision was made to cut cow numbers, with the plan to increase ewe numbers as their pasture demand would be less.

“It’s easier to grow an inch of grass rather than four inches.”

Lambing starts on July 4, with three more mobs of ewes lambing through until November. Last year’s lambing percentages were 143% ewes to the ram and 149% ewes set-stocked (fewer dries to lambs docked). In the terminal mobs, early-lambing ewes averaged 146% and mid-lambing ewes 141%. The Romney replacement singles, including two-tooth singles, averaged 101%, two-tooths 161% and twins 181%.

Lambs sent for processing average 16.3kg and $120/head, with the aim being to fatten about 1000, or one quarter of their annual lamb crop before Christmas. Last year it dropped to about 750 after Rob made the decision to store most of the Romney wether lambs.

“I’m trying to keep grass on the farm,” he says.

They can always buy lambs in.

Romney sires from the Warren family’s Turanganui Stud in the Wairarapa are used over the breeding ewes with terminal sires Poll Dorset or Beltex being used on one-third of their flock. Poll Dorset rams have been coming from a local supplier Cliff Derry in Kawakawa Bay for about 20 years, while Beltex rams have just come on to the farm in the past three seasons from Rex Roadley at Batley Beltex, Maungaturoto in Northland. About 10 rams are bought each season, with three or four terminal sires and the rest Romneys.

“We’ve learned the value of good genetics,” Bill says.

Using AI on heifers

The Cashmores’ straight Angus herd starts calving on September 4, averaging more than 95%. Rob carries out AI on the heifers, with all progeny staying on the farm for 18 to 24 months.

“I’ve been doing AI for the past four years, starting off doing only enough for the number of bulls I required to service the remaining herd,” he says.

“I don’t intend to extend it into the main cow herd, but I’m now synchronising all of the rising two-year-old first-calvers.”

Animal health costs average about $15 a stock unit. Bovine viral diarrhoea storms are a big threat in cattle, which they’ve been inoculating for over the past five years. Theileria is a new concern so they’re trying to control ticks on their cattle.

“Facial eczema is constantly keeping the flock young and viral pneumonia is a problem over summer in the lambs,” Rob says.

Leptospirosis has been an issue in the past but it’s now under control, along with toxoplasmosis and campylobacter.

About 10ha of pasture is renewed every year, generally going into a summer crop, then an annual for two years before perennials, or back into summer crop if the ground is damaged.

“I’ve tried pasja, chicory, chicory and plantain, chicory and clovers and raphno,” he says.

The annuals or tetraploids have been Lush and Mohaka for the last several years.

Rob says they both have their advantages and disadvantages but the two-year cycle of Lush seems to fit better with his cropping cycles.

With the cost of seed and fertiliser increasing so dramatically over these past seasons he is unsure whether they will do any more this year and maybe not next season either.

After a year on the farm, Rob went to Lincoln University to study for a farm management diploma. He worked on a number of Canterbury and Southland farms, then after a six-month stint overseas on an Angus Association scholarship in the United States, came home in 2009. He worked for wages, became livestock manager, then three years later, full manager. Rachel grew up on a 1500ha sheep and beef farm in the Hunterville district, completed a double major in agriculture and animal science at Massey University. She now works for AgriHealth, as well as managing the farm accounts. They have two children, George, 8, and Catherine (Kate), 5.

Environment award winners

The Cashmore family has taken an active and intergenerational approach to the long-term stewardship of the farm. Rob and Rachel won the farm stewardship award in last year’s Auckland regional Ballance Farm Environment Awards. Rob’s quick to point to the 16ha of trees planted on their farm over the past 25 years, plus 400ha of virgin native bush blocks that have been stock-excluded for more than 20 years. There is native bush shelter in every paddock for stock shade and shelter and regenerating native bush in the less productive hill country gullies to stop erosion.

“Now there’s green lines of bush going up most of the gullies and slip faces,” Bill says.

But there’s good reason not to fence off some bush in paddocks so stock are still able to take advantage of the shelter they provide.

“More pragmatism is needed. How much more do they want us to do?”

They use RPR and elemental sulphur which costs about 10–12% of gross farm revenue.

The Olsen P is from 12–15 and the pH is 5.3 to 6.1 over different soil types.

Bill and Rob Cashmore outside the farm workshop

Serving the community

Rob (38) is now Auckland Federated Farmers’ deputy Meat and Wool chairman after having served as chairman for a number of years. He says it’s difficult to stay optimistic about farming at present despite the good work that industry groups do in Wellington.

“Farmers will vote with their feet.”

Bill decided to get involved in local politics when the Auckland supercity was formed from legacy councils back in 2011. He ran for the local board, became deputy chairman then the local councillor, supporting the push for the establishment of the rural advisory panel. Here, representatives of different primary industry sectors are sounded out for their views on proposed policies.

When Phil Goff became mayor in 2016 Bill was named deputy mayor, which saw him getting up at 4am to drive into the council’s central city offices. Covid ended that, but he still put in at least 12-hour days at home. He says he misses the many keen, hard-working people he dealt with on council but disliked the petty politics, which would often see decisions delayed by one staff member having a different opinion to a council-employed consultant.

“I didn’t like the time it took to do things,” he says.

“Some people are very selfish. I’d sometimes pull a person out of a council meeting to tell them not to talk to staff the way they did. I was always pretty forthright in saying what I thought.

“Politicians used to laugh at rural organisations around the council table. And I’d tell them the truth with both barrels. If we plant New Zealand in pine trees, what are we going to live off? Without exports we’re screwed. There’s no point getting angry, but what I want to see is a fair and accurate recognition of what agriculture does.”

Bill agrees with some of mayor Wayne Brown’s policies, especially when it comes to reducing the council’s role to its core business of maintaining infrastructure. He’d like to see its shares in Auckland Airport sold and thinks Ports of Auckland should be leased out for 25 or 30 years, guaranteeing enough income to move it elsewhere.

Now he describes himself as being in a bit of a vortex, having had a month relaxing on a cruise with Lynette who has firmly told the 65-year-old he won’t be spending his retirement in a Lazyboy watching TV.

In early December he was busy helping Rob out with crutching ewes, alongside full-time employee Caleb Gutry, and Devyn Rees, who was on a fixed contract from October to the end of January. Bill happily admits his best tally days are well behind him and he’s now thinking about getting involved in another governance role or maybe establishing a consultancy business.

For Rob and Rachel, their aim is to diversify their farming operation so they’re not stuck with one or two main income streams.

“Hopefully that will negate any exposure to rapid loss of income or increase in expenses,” Rob says.

But the winding, hilly coastal road and new council bylaws are the main reasons why expansion will probably slow down in the future.

Farming’s importance

On leaving school Bill went home to the 1200ha farm, settled by his grandfather in the 1880s. In every generation since WW2, one person has been able to buy their siblings out, allowing a straight line of succession. After a few years at home, a Meat Board fellowship saw Bill visit the United States. Then he and Lynnette, a nurse, travelled to Europe before heading back to the farm to eventually take it over with some substantial bank mortgages.

The worst times were after the removal of subsidies and the high interest rates of the 1980s when Bill cut scrub and did fencing around the district to pay the interest. But he now believes the uncertainty of legislative change is wreaking even more havoc on sheep and beef farming.

“Practical reality is something we haven’t seen in the last nine years.”

Bill says the Covid-imposed zero tourism showed the importance of agriculture to the New Zealand economy, with up to 82% of export earnings coming from agriculture.

“You can improve outputs but it doesn’t happen at the click of the finger, and tourism has a massive carbon footprint.”

Anger and anxiety widespread

Although he is not in complete agreement with Groundswell’s position, Bill says it has shown the degree of anxiety and anger out there.

“If the powers that be want us to walk off the land, so be it. But don’t kill us by a thousand cuts.”

He says the Government doesn’t seem to realise just how severely its emission reduction plan (ERP) proposals will affect sheep and beef farmers, with estimates that many wouldn’t last for two years under the tax regime they would face.

“It [Government] hasn’t considered the compounding effect of all the legislative challenges imposed over what is a very short time-frame.”

Rob believes that despite the best efforts of industry groups, information is not getting through to the Government. He sees the ERP as a punitive system that won’t reward farmers for the bush they’ve kept on their properties, but will fund the planting of pine trees for carbon credits on land where native bush was milled many years ago, or which is not very suitable for growing pine trees.

The solution to emissions reduction should be the taxation on net emissions under a science-based approach measuring all on-farm sequestration, plantings and/or historical blocks of natives in their entirety, so they are completely accounted for at a farm level.

“I don’t believe pine trees are the answer,” Rob says.

With some pine tree blocks grown just for carbon farming, they are often poorly maintained, or if they’re planted for forestry, harvesting operations can be damaging. Both reduce employment opportunities with the inevitable effect on rural communities, he says.