Case study: Te Umuopua, Central Hawke's Bay

Ormonds 12 March 2015

Te Umuopua has been farmed by Alastair Ormond since 1978. Its 620 hectares of rolling to steep hill country can be found in the Hatuma district. It is now farmed by Alastair, wife Tracy and son Daniel.

This outstanding family operation scooped the Supreme Award in this year's East Coast Ballance Farm Evironment Awards. At an awards dinner on 5 March, the Ormonds also collected the B+LNZ Livestock Award, Hill Laboratories Harvest Award and the East Coast Farming for the Future Award.

The awards judges noted an "open minded and analytical approach to all things" in this farming business, resulting in Te Umuopua being at the forefront of successful sheep and cattle farming. Financial results are closely monitored through Farmax.

The judges said the property had been "well planted and thoughtfully developed" with land and water managed to the limitations of the soil types. They said it had an excellent mix of land use with intensive finishing alongside fenced native bush and the condition of all livestock was "exceptional".

The Ormonds have a high performance 3300-strong ewe flock and lambed half of their 1065 ewe hoggets this last season. It is intended that all the hoggets be mated in future. Half Texel/half Finn rams are crossed over Romney ewes while the terminal rams are Suffolk Texel. The lambing percentage this spring was 152 per cent (including hogget lambs). Stock policy has recently changed, with a drop in stock numbers intending to lift per head performance and to allow all lambs bred to be finished on the property. Ewe numbers have dropped but the Ormonds are still getting the same number of lambs on the ground.

There were 262 bulls wintered in the cell grazing system last year and a further 100 yearling Friesian bulls were purchased in the early spring. Sixty cows and calves have recently replaced the three-year-old bulls killed in December/January (averaging 320kg carcase weight). A further 100 Friesian bulls are contracted to arrive at 200kg in April. Eighty to 90 of the R2 bulls will be killed in April. "Some of these are beef breed bulls and are expected to be killed at 260-280kg carcase weight," Alastair says.

The farm has a challenging contour with four specific soil types: all with their limitations. Without flat land, a cell grazing system has been developed for the bulls which utilises isolated fingers of land throughout the farm. "It's not a multiplex system but I guess a hopscotch adaption for more difficult hill country. We do cell graze the bulls all through the winter to keep them off vulnerable soils."

Extensive development of laneways and the rise in elevation towards the back of the farm makes the movement of stock to the handling facilities quite straightforward. Good use is made of a 14-year-old Land Use Capability map.

"We recently used the Cross Slot drill to establish a summer rape. We were very happy with the result and although the farm has limited areas flat enough for the 10-tonne drill, we will use it where possible in future."

The cultivation is for the strategic use of plantain and clover, lucerne (8ha) and brassicas in an effort to enable them to finish all the lambs they breed.

"Currently (February 2015) we are drying out like everyone else in the area, but the 40 hectares of plantain, rape and lucerne is enabling us to finish/hold our stock: our problem at the moment is obtaining space at the works. The feed covers have allowed us to bring in an additional 60 cows and calves which, together with 100 yearling bulls to be carried through the winter, are our clean up mobs. "

Te Umuopua is blessed with bountiful water: it is at the top of the catchment of the Maharakeke River with a stream running the length of the property. In addition there are numerous springs, one of which supplies all the houses and some troughs from a gravity system.

"We are partners in the Tourere Water Scheme, which was one of the last community water schemes to be built over 25 years ago. It was that water scheme which allowed the intensive wintering of cattle on the free draining Matapiro soils and has protected the wetter soils from winter pugging by cattle."

Over time, Alastair has built a series of dams down an ephemeral waterway (runs only occasionally). "It stops what would otherwise be an occasional torrent of water."

Natural springs on the property did cause problems with liver fluke, so they have been fenced and planted. This was a more serious issue when they ran cows as they were on the property for many years compared with the bulls.

"There are six hectares of native bush that was very open and damaged when I came here and that's been fenced off for 30 years and has become very special – very thick and regenerated."

There were only three shelter belts on the farm when Alastair took over and no other native pockets, which meant there was little in the way of bird life. "Now there are pheasants, quail, native pigeons, tui – birds are abundant. Of course that's been helped by the regional council helping to get rid of the possums. We also have fallow deer in our woodlots and more than the occasional red deer which accumulate as they make their way up the stream and can't go any further than the deer fence on our southern boundary."

There are other trees planted for shade and erosion control including 320 poles planted last August.

After some tough times on the farm, Alastair went into farm consultancy in 1993 for 10 years. "I learnt a lot. I saw lots of operations and learnt what made people successful but also that the less successful operators had many traits in common. It was a valuable experience, but juggling the farm with the consultancy was a challenge. Current returns in farming make life fulfilling and have given us options that the tough times of the 80s did not allow."

Alastair has been a member of the research advisory group for the Poukawa Research Station, previously coordinated the Poukawa Calf Rearing Project for six years and is a past chairman of the Hawke's Bay Beef Council. During the10 years he spent in farm consultancy he was also involved in developing a quality assurance programme for Richmond.

The farm is run by Alastair and Trevor Chapman, with Tracy helping when required, as well as doing the farm accounts. Daniel is the only son of Alastair's five children and Tracy also has two children (all adults). Daniel is the only one planning a future in farming.

It wasn't part of the judging process, but Daniel also leases a 300ha property on Napier's city boundary (four years left on a 15 year lease +). It was operated by Alastair and Tracy from Hatuma for eight years but has been run by Daniel since he came back from travelling overseas (prior to that he was at university, working in banking and then working at home on the farm).

Daniel bought Tracy out of the lease partnership and then 12 months ago also bought me out of it," says Alastair. The family then changed the ownership of the home farm from a partnership to a company and Daniel has purchased half the livestock. "Daniel and his wife Holly are building a house on the property at the moment and Daniel is involved in the day to day running of Te Umuopua as his lease block allows.

"Tracy and I intend to remain living on the farm, although over time we envisage more time will be spent running the storage business nearby in Waipukurau (purchased September 2013).

"I wrote my succession plan about 10 years ago. I always had a vision that I wanted Daniel to have an opportunity to farm. We have a few kids, so it was always going to be difficult.

"What we do is all for our family. They're not physically here but they are very keyed into the farm. That's what drives us. Everything I've done is as a succession plan for my whole family. They come back a lot and they'll always continue to do so."

Judges comments

  • Well planted and thoughtfully developed property with land and water managed to the limitations of soil types
  • Excellent mix of land use with intensive finishing alongside fenced native bush. Strategic fodder cropping
  • High performance ewe flock and strong weight gains on bulls. Condition of livestock was exceptional
  • Cell grazing system utilises isolated fingers of land throughout the farm meaning cattle kept off wet soils in winter
  • Natural springs have been fenced and planted. Six hectares of native bush fenced off for 30 years. Abundant bird life
  • Cross slot cultivation introduced on easier slopes to help increase cropping area to allow more lambs to be finished
  • Robust and open succession plan for the next generation including off-farm investments and the lease block
  • A large family with clear understanding of future provisions. Strong desire to keep the farm for the family
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