18 October 1996 Marlborough couple third in Farmer of Year Competition
Muller Station farming couple Stephen Satterthwaite and Mary-Anne Sharpe took third place and a $2000 prize in the final of Lincoln University Foundation's Farm of the Year Competition held this week. (On 15.10.96).
The 1996 category for the competition, now in its 14th year, was Hill and High Country Farming and it drew 10 entries from throughout the South Island, with Rabobank providing the major sponsorship the prizes. After on-farm and other judging, four couples made it through to the finals at Lincoln University.
Winners of the top prize of a $7500 overseas travel scholarship were past Otago Federated Farmers President Eion Garden and wife Noeline of Avenel Station, Millers Flat.
The Gardens farm 2850 hectares of harsh winter, high country land carrying 4500 Coopworth ewes (plus hoggets), 400 cattle (Angus and Angus x Hereford cows all mated to Charolais sires) and 524 adult and 220 yearling deer in three operations, a breeding herd, a velveting herd and a finishing herd.
Second, with a prize of $3000, were Blair and Sara Gallagher of Rangiatea in the foothills inland from Ashburton and fourth were Paddy and Barbara Boyd of Haldon Station, Fairlie.
On Muller Station, in the Upper Awatere Valley, Marlborough, 110km from Blenheim, Stephen Satterthwaite and Mary-Anne Sharpe carry 13,500 sheep (Merino), 1500 cattle (Angus, Hereford and Gelbvieh cross with Simmental and Charolais terminal sires), and 570 deer (Red, English/German sires).
Stephen Satterthwaite's family's occupation of Muller Station began in 1965. He himself started on the property in 1970 and, after a break overseas, took over as manager in 1980.
Despite major rabbit and hieracium problems and other difficulties associated with this type of property, intelligent management of Muller has seen an 80 percent increase in tonnage of wool produced since 1965 and a 120 percent increase in total stock units.
There has also been a 40 percent increase per stock unit in wool weight (now averaging over 7kg) and a reduction in the average micron by two. Lambing percentages average 100 percent.
Management policy is aimed at further performance improvements in that area and with cattle and deer the couple are endeavouring to increase growth rates and improve carcass conformation through to slaughter to maximise efficiency.
The future for Muller goes hand in hand with biological pest and weed control. As Stephen Satterthwaite said in his presentation at Lincoln.
"With the extensive nature of high country properties and their relatively low productivity per hectare, the cost of conventional control measures is often prohibitive.
"There is no other farming system in New Zealand which has such an imbalance between productivity and weed and pest control costs per hectare.
"Without biological control for at least rabbits, the partnership of rabbits and hieracium is going to cause massive degradation again.
"Land degradation causes have to be dealt with as quickly as possible. We cannot wait another five years for new methods of rabbit control to maybe eventuate and on-going research into ways of competing with hieracium has to continue to be a priority."
In running the Farmer of the Year Competition, Lincoln University Foundation acknowledges and thanks Rabobank for its continued sponsorship and support.
Rabobank's South Island Manager (Rural), Alister Bennett, said his company was pleased to be associated with a competition that acknowledged excellence and encouraged the sharing of technology and information within the industry.
The bank was looking forward to its involvement with the public field day on the Garden's property in early 1997, he said.
Lincoln University Foundation Chairman, John Nimmo, praised the "particularly high standard" of all the finalists and said that year after year key themes showed through in the operations of the entrants. Among these was an understanding by each of their country, its limitations, its positives and negatives.
"They base their management on what their country can do," he said. "They get their basics right, then work to targets and goals."
In explaining his winning farm management formula to the judges and audience at Lincoln University, Eion Garden said he had no hesitation in stating that his 25 years of involvement in Federated Farmers and farming politics had contributed significantly to the performance level he and Noeline had achieved on Avenel.
"It has given me valuable contact with high performing individuals whose ideas and interesting attitudes have been worth emulating.
"It has made me very focussed on what is important," he said.
In addition to the stock operation on Avenel, Noeline and Eion both have a strong interest in forestry and recently won the 1996 Ministry of Forestry Award for Innovation in Farm Forestry. Eion is a national executive member of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association.
Avenel Station ranges between 400m and 900m above sea level and has traditionally been a breeding property. Recent policy has seen a change from breeding to breeding and finishing; this has been done concentrating on pastoral management and livestock feeding. Soil fertility has been boosted dramatically to increase pasture production. As a consequence, high animal production is a feature of Avenel.
One hundred and fifty hectares of the property is in farm forestry and the objective is to develop a well managed forest to provide an income for retirement and a legacy for the family.
The Gardens also have a small diversification into farm tourism and enjoy hosting visitor groups on to their property.
In describing their overall operation Noeline said that in all farming there needed to be a balance between the drive, dedication and commitment necessary for success and the need for quality of life.
"That quality of life is found in enjoying the work you're doing, enjoying the company of the people you're working with, and, most importantly, enjoying the surroundings in which you work."
Life at Avenel provided all of that, she said.
Ian Collins, Journalist, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand.