Case study: Broadlands Station

Broadlands 17 March 2015

Willie Akers, who since September 2012 has been taking over the reins at 1650ha Broadlands Station, is continuing a family tradition of stewardship of this Ashhurst hill country.

The sheep and beef farming operation owned by the Akers family claimed the top title in this year's Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards, along with the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award and the Donaghys Farm Stewardship Award.

Judges describing the business as an "excellent example of multi-generational farming for environmental stability and financial success".

Willie's forbears came to the largely unbroken country, punctuated by the Pohangina River and valley, in 1880. Willie's parents Hugh and Judy have been farming Broadlands since 1971 and 1980 respectively. Judy has her own team of dogs and is actively involved. Currently the property has an effective area of 1400ha and winters approximately 11,500su with a 70:30 sheep to cattle ratio.

Hugh has overseen comprehensive damage mitigation from the river and erosion, and the establishment of a family museum the judges describe as "stunning". "The large purpose-built museum of machinery and implements also has a humidity controlled section for fragile records, photos, books and memorabilia."

But you don't have to be an Akers to play a key role on this property. The judges noted: "Stock manager Wayne Romley has worked at Broadlands for 30 years and follows in the steps of his grandfather, also a Broadlands manager. The depth and experience of this management trio gives Broadlands a unique stability and confidence."

Contour is 15 percent flat, 15 percent medium rolling and the balance hard hill country. Farm areas are broken into land management units according to a range of factors including soil and contour.

The judges highlighted the "meticulous stock records kept to achieve maximum production".

The 6000 Perendale ewes lamb unshepherded at a steady 120 percent. Lambs are finished to strict carcass specifications on designated pasture, including in the past two years on plantain Willie has introduced on the sandy river flats. At least 1200 lambs go into valuable but exacting Waitrose carcass contracts annually. The farm's consistency and quality of meat production has been recognised in recent years with a number of North Island and national industry awards.

There is a tradition of pride in wool production at Broadlands. Rams only come from breeders providing comprehensive wool records. "Whatever happens you've got to shear your sheep, so you may as well get the most you can for the wool," says Willie. "Hugh has always maintained if you let your wool go, it is very hard to get the quality back."

The river and tributaries running through Broadlands provide a constant challenge of flooding and erosion damage control. Ongoing planting and maintenance of woodlots and native blocks are managed around river and slip protection. There is a seven kilometre network of gravel tracks through the farm. A farm grader, and a truck to cart sheep across the river which dissects the property, are essential equipment.

There is rich biodiversity on the farm with two reserves established and protected for many years and other pockets of bush regenerating. One reserve has mature and regenerating native bush and the other incorporates a large wetland area, home to rare native mudfish and healthy swamp maire trees.

Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre students and their tutors are regulars at Broadlands, using the place as an outdoor classroom. From time to time students are employed, assisting them in gaining the necessary practical experience required to complete their studies. Willie and Wayne are involved with the gun club and polocrosse. Hugh has commitments including to the Ashhurst Rugby Club, polocrosse and RSA. The station is a significant sponsor of the Manawatu Turbos rugby team.

Hugh and Judy are building an off-grid homestead. A large solar energy system will power the home and some farm fences and also augment woolshed power. The couple have spent much time establishing natives around their spectacular site, which has views north to Ruapehu and south to the Kapiti Coast.

Willie's fiancée Laura Oughton lives on Broadlands. She works for Agriseeds and brings valued agronomy knowledge to the station. Willie's sister Anna lives on a property neighbouring Broadlands.

Judges' comments

  • Multi-generational sheep and beef farm since 1880, strong attention to detail in all aspects of the operation
  • Commitment to historical preservation with family museum; protection of significant bush and wetland
  • Significant personal input into Pohangina River protection activities, now in conjunction with Horizons Regional Council
  • Deep understanding of utilising soils into different management units for long term sustainability and maximum production
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