Farm profits help rural students get ahead

A hill country farm east of Dannevirke has helped hundreds of young people with their tertiary studies. Kate Taylor visited to find out how.

Harwood Farm trustee and supervisor Shaun Morgans with farm manager Max Buckendahl.
Kate Taylor

Harwood Farm trustee and supervisor Shaun Morgans with farm manager Max Buckendahl.

Sheep and beef farmer Max Buckendahl has called the Weber district home for almost three decades but when his 30th anniversary rolls around next year he's off to see the country.

Together with partner Lynn Moss and a fifth-wheeler artic truck caravan, he's going to work (and fish) in the warmer climates of Northland for half the year and travel New Zealand for the other half.

"There's no particular reason to go now but I wanted to stay here 30 years first," he says.

Mixed-sex romdale lambs on Harwood Farm at Weber.
Kate Taylor

Mixed-sex romdale lambs on Harwood Farm at Weber.

Buckendahl has been managing the 610-hectare Harwood Farm since 1987, as well as the nearby 655ha block he calls Bassett's since 1997.

The farms are owned by the Harwood Farm Trust, which was set up by Myra Annie Zita Arnaboldi in 1981 as a way of combining the two great interests in her life, teaching and farming. She was a Waipawa primary school principal who inherited the farm property in Weber from her parents.

It has four trustees: lawyer Murray Pringle, accountant Moira Paewai and advisory trustee John Dodson and Shaun Morgans, who replaced one of the founding trustees, the late Peter Smith, two years ago. Smith was instrumental in the purchase of the extra farm and its development.

Angus-hereford weaner heifers. Thirty will go to the bull.
Kate Taylor

Angus-hereford weaner heifers. Thirty will go to the bull.

Morgans, who is also the farm supervisor, says the scholarships are predominantly for tertiary education in the rural sector for students from the wider Weber area and around the East Coast.

"We like to hand out an even amount of money each year. We've always tried to give away at least the amount we would have paid in tax if we weren't a charitable trust."

The trust also has a significant off-farm portfolio, so its scholarships aren't reliant on the agricultural cycle. This year it has paid $46,000 in 37 scholarships and also supports Weber School.

Morgans says they have been fortunate to have had Buckendahl managing for them for so long.

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"He has put his heart and soul into this place and has built it from a small, struggling farm not producing very much to a profitable venture. We're thankful for that, as well as looking forward to a new chapter in the farm's history."

While the effective area of the farms hasn't changed too much, the production has seen a jump due to re-grassing and fertiliser.

"This farm was 610 hectares at the start and only 320 effective," Buckendahl says.

"The woolshed was buggered, the pasture was stuffed and the fertiliser history was nil."

The farm definitely showed the results of Rogernomics in the 1980s, he says.

"The first 10 years this farm paid my wages and in a good year made a token $10,000 profit."

Then nearby Bassett's was bought in 1997, adding another 655ha (420 effective) to the operation. The blocks are separate geographically but have always been run as one unit. 

"The three trustees at the time said 'let's go buy another farm' - best thing they ever did. It was bought at the bottom of the property cycle and we were lucky it was only 8km up the road. It was a bit tough at the time though. I remember sitting on the fence with Peter Smith. We'd budgeted $38 for the stock and paid $52. He said we'd be okay as long as we didn't have a drought. We had a drought.  We had 4000 ewes and only 84 sets of twins."

The trustees took a 15-year loan and paid it off in seven, he says.

"One year we sold some trees and another year we sold off 200 acres,  put no fertiliser on and everything lined up. We did it. At that time it was cheaper to buy another farm than to put fertiliser on the one you had. Those were the times."

It has changed since then, especially in terms of fertiliser history.

Ten years ago they put on two capital dressings of superphosphate at 300kg a hectare and apply 200kg/ha in annual maintenance. About 1200 tonnes of lime was put on eight years ago with another 500 tonnes this year.

"We have also cultivated more than 1000 acres of land in the past 15 years," he says.

"It's all grass to grass, not crops. It's too wet here in November and too dry over summer and then you only get two grazings. It's the old adage, if you get a good crop you don't need it."

Buckendahl enjoys tractor work so the trust has slowly acquired all the machinery he needs for the farm's ag work, including buying a direct drill last year. About 70 per cent of Harwood Farm's effective hectares has been cultivated and Bassett's has 80ha of new grasses with another 160ha still to be cultivated.

The operation has 3200 ewes to the ram, plus any ewe hoggets Buckendahl judges to be up to weight and condition (by eye, not scales).  They scan 50-60 per cent.

"We might get more if we weighed them, but that's more management than what it's worth at the other end."

The past two lambing seasons have hit them hard with storms. The ewes have been scanning 138 per cent but they're aiming to lift that to 160 per cent by taking the ewe hoggets out of the equation.

"We've changed ram supplier and now buy the highest-indexed rams we can," Morgans says.  These are mainly romdales from St Leger stud near Tiniroto, Gisborne, which is also where Morgans buys rams for his own farms.

"I have found them to be structurally sound. The fertility index isn't as high as I'd like but I thought pushing Max into using coopworths was a step too far," he says, laughing.

Buckendahl says he put perendales over the romney ewes, then after five years used romneys again. Buying romdales, rather than creating them, is best.

"They've got the get up and go from the start. The lambs' survival rate was better in our harsher climate. It does take time to appreciate how harsh it can be up here and our shorter growing season. There's no facial eczema up here. It's too cold."

Most lambs are gone from the property before Christmas (depending on the lambing percentage and how kind they think summer will be). Up to 80 per cent of the male lambs are sold store at weaning. About 150 of those go as fat lambs to the works, he adds.

Offloading early gives them the feed to bring smaller lambs up to weight.

"Everything else is on hold until this time of year when prices rise dramatically."

A B mob of about 800 ewes is put to a south suffolk terminal sire sourced from Prouting's High Plains stud on the next door farm.

"It spreads the risk. Kilograms of meat off the farm pays the bills," says Buckendahl.

"If we can target a higher percentage with the maternal sires we will be able to put more ewes to the terminal sire," says Morgans. 

"In order to do this properly we have to get scanning up or we're behind the eight ball all the way through. Whether they're killed or sold store, terminals are always 10 to 15 per cent better value purely from their extra weight."

On the cattle side, the property has 145 mixed age angus-hereford cross cows and also puts 30 heifers (13-15 months old) to the bull.

"We started BVD testing the cows four seasons ago and we've gone from an average 80 per cent in calf to 94 per cent," Buckendahl says.

"It has been the best thing. It's dear and it's a hassle but it's the best thing you can do for your cattle."

Since the BVD testing the oldest cow in the herd is eight years old. Dries go straight to the works and old cows are sold in-calf.

Buckendahl is a firm believer in quiet cows and has been buying hereford cattle from Martin and Mary Taylor's Glenbrae Stud at Porangahau for 26 years.

"We put the bull out for just six weeks because we sell most of our steers store and we want them all the same size. About 80 per cent of the males go to the Dannevirke weaner fair in the last week in March. This year they averaged $830 gross.  The past two or three years we've been fattening everything else but we're getting more dollars selling earlier."

The farm has several plantations of melanoxylum trees, an Australian hardwood, which have been established by Buckendahl, as well as 100ha of managed pine trees aged between 15 and 26 years.

There is 85 hectares of native bush under two QEII National Trust covenants and a 3.5ha Department of Conservation reserve.

Buckendahl says he has enjoyed working with shepherd general Maihi Hoani for the past two and half years and saves the last word for his employers as he prepares his thoughts for next year's departure.

"The trustees are good. They like spending money to make money and that's what the farm is here for. They've had that attitude all along and they've been a pleasure to work with."

 - Stuff

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