Taking on the big issues in big country

Charlie Reynolds farms big country in the Ormond Valley near Gisborne.
KATE TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Charlie Reynolds farms big country in the Ormond Valley near Gisborne.

After driving into the Ormond Valley property of Charlie Reynolds, it's not surprising that rural roads is an issue he's hot under the collar about.

Tight gravel roads are everywhere in rural New Zealand and Ngakoroa Road near Gisborne is one of them. In the next few years, Reynolds is going to have to warn all visitors about the forestry harvesting happening at the end of his road.

"It is 300 hectares so we will see 3000 to 4000 logging trucks passing our farm gate before they're finished… and that's a small block in comparison to what's around the rest of the region," he says.

Stabiliser cows are moved along a ridge on Charlie Reynolds' Ormond Valley farm near Gisborne.
KATE TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Stabiliser cows are moved along a ridge on Charlie Reynolds' Ormond Valley farm near Gisborne.

"Everyone said plant, plant, plant, but no one thought about what would happen in 30 years' time when all those hundreds of thousands of trees are coming out. How do you deal with it? I know Gisborne is not the wealthiest council in the world, so two-lane highways are unrealistic but making sure everyone can conduct their business happily and safely has to be a priority."

He says his plan is to get groups talking informally about the issues, including the Gisborne District Council, forestry companies, contractors and farmers, and then to meet as a formal group to create a formal plan.

Reynolds has been on the Gisborne-Wairoa Federated Farmers executive for the past couple of years and took on the president's role at the annual meeting in April.

"Roads are my big concern but also farmers have lots of other things to worry about at the same time… things like health and safety and water plans. Many of those types of issues are looked at by our head office staff and elected people but we need to keep up with it all to make sure Gisborne and Wairoa don't get left behind. We're trying to avoid that "one size fits all" plan that just isn't applicable on Gisborne hill country out the back of Tolaga or Motu."

One of the statements being made by policymakers is for every waterway on farms to be fenced.

Reynolds worked out how much that would cost him.

"There wouldn't be much change from a million dollars. No one has actually sat down and worked out the logistics and what it would cost. That's estimating fencing, culverts, reticulation, pumps… and I didn't even get started on bridges."

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Water is something close to Reynolds heart as well, especially when too much or not enough falls from the sky.  Last spring his farm counted the cost of 400mm of rain in two days as a once-meandering stream became a flooded torrent and lifted the stream bed by about two and a half metres with the silt it left behind. This autumn they're still waiting for decent rain to fall. Super flown on in April was still visible on the ridgelines in late May.

Reynolds, 37, has been farming on his own account for four years. The former Wanganui Collegiate student is married to Megan, who grew up on a farm at Motu. They have two-year-old son Ollie. Reynolds had various office jobs and travelled overseas when he left school before working as a spray driver for Leaderbrand for four years.

"Murray has a phenomenal work ethic and he was great to work for. He was a good mentor and I learnt a lot from him."

When he was about 27, Reynolds thought he might go farming at home at Te Papa.

"But the old man said "not without an ag degree" so off I went to Massey University as an older student, did my Diploma in Agriculture and then Dad graciously allowed me employment," he says with a grin.

"I started as a shepherd with Dad as the boss, but we've swapped those roles now. He's here most days but I bought the farm from him in 2012."

Reynolds' grandfather Peter farmed the property Windermere at the start of Ngakoroa Road, which had been part of the original and much larger Marshlands Station.  His parents Marty and Caroline Reynolds bought the 162ha Te Papa in 1963 and then added half of the neighbouring Ahurau (another neighbour bought the other half) in the 1970s.  

Four hundred hectares was sold to a forestry company when Charlie and Megan bought the remaining 463ha in 2012.

"Otherwise we'd be working for the bank for the rest of our lives," Reynolds says.

In a switch from his father's management, the farm is 70:30 cattle to sheep.

"Generally I just prefer to work with cattle, even just moving them I get more enjoyment, whereas Dad was more of a sheep man," he says. 

"We use stabiliser cattle from Focus Genetics. We've been buying from the Absolom family more than 30 years and that relationship is a huge part of what we do. We have a customised bull programme that suits our price range and selection policies. I'm interested in genetics in terms of what's possible in the future. As far as our choices go, I might put a little angus in to introduce a bit of solidity back in."

The farm calves 300 cows including heifers.

"The aim is to finish everything on the property with the occasional store deal when feed is short or prices are too good to ignore," he says.

"We let Paul Kirkpatrick from Silver Fern Farms make some of those decisions for us and constantly talk and scheme about what we're doing or could be doing. Should we kill? Generally we like to get all the steers to at least 550 kilograms live weight before contemplating processing… and the heifers as close to 500kg. We're 100 per cent grass fed and try to hit as much of the Beef EQ (eating quality) targets as possible. That's not breed-related and we can get 25 cents a kilo more if we hit all the specs."

The farm has 800 highlander ewes from also Focus Genetics, which Reynolds says also goes back to that Absolom relationship.

"Marty loved the highlanders and they suit the country but for me it's more the percentage game. If I'm scanning anything under 175 per cent I'm having a hissy fit because something has gone drastically wrong. Our docking figure is usually about 169 per cent.  We don't know where the six per cent goes. It's always there even when the weather is great. Something else to aspire to, I guess," he says.  The aim is to kill as many lambs off mum as possible.

"There's never as many as you think there's going to be though. We want a consistent average of 18.5kg carcass weight so we calculate that at each weighing."

Every animal on the farm has electronic identification (EID) tags. Te Papa was one of the founding farms of the Farm IQ programme.

"We were one of 12 asked to go to Wellington. It was good fun and a great learning experience. We had three years together as a group talking about what should be in the programme and trying to explain farmer talk to the code writers," he says, laughing.

"I want to sell a heifer… What's a heifer?"

Reynolds says it was useful to see how everything came together to form the gist of the programme and how the traceability aspect fitted in with market demand.

"I like being at the forefront of new things like that. It's interesting and it makes me wonder what's next. I don't think we'll ever move away from muddy boots but it's important to always have an ear to the ground with eyes open to what might happen. 

"It's not just about genetics and technology but government policies and policies created by people with no idea about farming. I hope the likes of Federated Farmers keep talking to the policymakers to make future changes manageable for farmers and not ones that will ruin their lives."

 - Stuff

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