Terry Brosnahan

A Southland couple have taken a proactive approach to enhancing and future proofing their farm as the environmental regulations keep coming.

Dean and Sarah Rabbidge farm at Glenham, near Wyndham, where they have been fencing off creeks and planting them out as part of their Environment Southland farm focus plan. It is a plan they have been developing for the past three years.

The plan is the same as a farm environment plan which allows them to see if farm activities line-up with the region’s environmental plans. The plan helps farmers identify risks to their farms, manage resources and nutrient losses. It also shows a farm’s management practices are having a positive impact on the environment.

Dean says the aim was to overlap the nutrient budget, map it over the FEP.

“To see if there were any areas we could really nail down.”

He has been watching neighbour David Clarke (see previous story) and is a fellow founding member of the Three Rivers catchment group. They feed off each offer.

Dean says there has been plenty of good information available through the regional council and the catchment group.

“A lot of it is common sense too.”

They have worked in well with Environment Southland staff though the land and water plan is on hold at the moment due to the Government’s Freshwater package.

Dean says Environment Southland staff have built a good relationship and rapport with farmers during development of the regional land and water plan.

Dean and Sarah (who are in their mid-30s) have three children Ted (5) Ida (4 in January) and Ray (only three weeks old). This is the third year since they bought the farm off his parents Stephen and Bev. Stephen still helps out on the farm.

The Rabbidges’ 298-hectare home farm has been in the family since 1889.

Dean and Sarah run a 180-cow unit on 72ha of the farm which was converted to dairy nine years ago, plus they graze 100 dairy young stock and 100 beef cattle.

They also have a 108ha runoff block and recently took on the lease of a neighbouring 165ha farm which has eased the pressure.

Ag consultant Deanne Carson uses data from killing sheet analysis to generate a pattern of stock on-hand each month for working out lamb flow. Accurate data flows from the milk tanker. He also carries out water testing.

Another tool they have been using is whole farm testing (WFT) for the past three years. At $40/test and $1600/year across the three farms (one farm a year) it is expensive but Dean says they are saving by using less fertiliser by not blanket spreading .

Under WFT the soil tests vary due to the different soil types which are clay loam. Initially they had 10 different fertiliser applications but now the home farm’s paddocks are uniform.

Dean and Sarah have been proactive on winter grazing and moved to no-tillage cropping systems for winter feed crops.

Direct drilling has reduced diesel usage, pugging and improved soil condition. It is cultivated after the crops are finished but it is only bare ground for a short time. This reduces impact from any big weather event.

Livestock used to access running water in every paddock but in autumn this year a water scheme was introduced. The scheme which cost about $40,000 is now in two-thirds of the paddocks which allows stock to be fenced out of the creeks.

“We will keep chipping away as it is not cheap.”

About 40ha now has stock excluded from the creeks and now where all the cattle run.

Under Environment Southland rules a resource consent was required when cultivating slopes steeper than 20 degrees. The Freshwater proposals would make it 15 degrees.

Dean says slopes of 20 degrees make a small part of the farm but 15 degrees is half the farm. If managed correctly, he doesn’t see why it would need a consent and more compliance cost.

The $20,000/year they will have to spend to prove they’re doing a fine job was what they would have spent on fencing and planting trees.

As the Rabbidges are using a FEP and nutrient budgeting, it rankles Dean they have to pay to prove it.

Stephen says the audit and consent processes doesn’t add anything to the value of a farm.

With a FEP in place, Dean can identify risks and use good management practices to avoid or remedy them. This leads to an action list so if there is a problem Dean can act quickly.

For example, if the risk with a winter crop is too high and would cost too much to remedy, it can be relocated.

Changing to Romney

Dean and Sarah are running 4300 ewes and 1200 hoggets. The lambing percentage is in the low 140s and they are in the process of changing from Romney-Texel to Romney.

For the first time the cows were wintered on the farm.

Fortunately it was dry while the cows were there but they were well-prepared if it had turned wet with plenty of kale and baleage available to keep shifting them.

If wet, there were also run-off blocks, former tree plantations, where they could be fed baleage for four of five days.

The lambing was about 80% completed before it turned wet.

The farm doesn’t grow any grass in the winter so they rely on feed crops which cost a favourable 7-8 cents/kg drymatter to grow.

They also grow 5ha of fodder beet as it doesn’t go to seed as readily as other brassicas and lose quality in the spring.

The annual rainfall of 1200mm is usually evenly distributed over the 12 months though July can be the driest month. This year Dean was hardly out of his wet weather gear from September 10 to late October.

Their water scheme has virtually no running costs.

A creek is the stock water source which fills a 40,000-litre tank from where it goes down a 20-metre stainless steel shaft to a ram pump (like David’s) which lifts it to the workshop from which gravity feeds water troughs.

Dean hopes there will be flexibility on the Freshwater proposal five-metre rule for existing fences from the river. They have creeks originally fenced at that distance but the waterways have changed course and not always stayed 5m away from fences. They are shifting the fences to match the creeks.