Longtime sheep and beef farmers make a fresh start in North Canterbury
Despite a 20-year foray into dairy support, the Hoban family of Parham Hill, Culverden still call themselves "sheep people."
Once a dryland sheep farmer, always a dryland sheep farmer.
To prove the point they have just sold the 227-hectare farm that has been the family's for more than a century and bought Glenafric, a 770ha, dryland sheep and beef property on the coast east of Waipara.
Pat Hoban says they wanted to stay with sheep, but realised they needed a different property.
"Since my grandparents originally developed the farm [on the Amuri Plain] our main interest has been sheep. With irrigation that was no longer the best use for Parham Hill. In the family, we talked about the options. We wanted to stay with sheep farming and eventually decided it was time to consider a change to a more extensive property though finding the right opportunity was not so easy."
"While selling home was not our first option, we decided that if the right extensive dryland sheep and beef farm came up, we would have to look at it seriously," says Pat.
Parham Hill had been in the Hoban Family since 1909. With intensive irrigated agriculture now common in the Amuri Basin, Pat and Judith Hoban, who farmed the property in partnership with son James and daughter-in-law Maria, took the difficult decision to cut the family's long ties to the property and move on.
But moving was an emotional step. Pat's grandparents, James and Sarah Hoban, drew Parham Hill in a ballot in 1909. Their great-grandson, the latest James in the family, describes how their arrival in the Amuri Basin was a lucky break.
"The Culverden Estate, which was one of the original Canterbury runs and 10,800ha had been bought by the government in controversial circumstances from the receiver acting for the previous owner. In 1908 it was balloted, and there were 783 applications for 29 parcels.
"Some settlers couldn't handle it and walked away after a year so several of the properties were re-balloted. James had been working on farms around the district but was unlucky in over 50 earlier ballots. This time he entered his wife Sarah's name and his superstition paid off as they won a ballot."
Pat's parents Margaret and William took over Parham Hills in the mid-1930s, says James. His parent's tenure began in the 1970s.
For most of the twentieth-century changes to farm practices in the Amuri Basin were incremental, he says.
"Then in the 1970s, the community's efforts to lobby the government for irrigation paid off. The Waiau Plains Irrigation Scheme was built by the Ministry of Works and commissioned in 1980. That brought about huge change, increased productivity and dramatically grew the capacity of Culverden farms."
After a few years, the government dis-established the Ministry of Works putting community irrigation schemes on hold. However, with the scheme operating in the Amuri Basin, the transformation of land use was irreversible. Continuing to farm sheep and crops with half Parham Hill under irrigation, in 1999 the Hobans changed tack. They sold most of their stock at an on-farm sale and went to dairy support, leasing most of the farm from the 1998/99 season on.
More recently they have gradually increased sheep numbers again while reducing the leased area. Today, Parham Hills is one of the few remaining grazing properties not converted to a milking platform in the area.
Bruce Hoban of PGG Wrightson Real Estate [a distant relative] knew the Hobans were looking for a property that would let them continue farming sheep and beef.
"With a bit of research, we managed to find them Glenafric, but Parham Hill had to be sold first," Hoban said. It was snapped up by a local dairy farmer who intended using it to graze young stock
Glenafric, with a balance of flats, downs and hills belonged to John and Andy Mackintosh. And their story drew parallels with that of the Hobans, having been in the Mackintosh family for 97 years.
Four generations of the Mackintosh family had farmed the property. The first of these, William, lived in a one room whare with his wife and children. In those early days after shearing the bales of wool were chucked off the cliff to the beach below where longboats would row the cargo out to the coastal traders, which transferred it to Kaiapoi and Christchurch.
William died in 1945 leaving his 18-year-old son Ian to carry on. Ian set about developing the farm, improving the land, fencing the large paddocks into smaller ones and upgrading Glenafric's productivity with phosphate top dressing by up to eight Tiger Moths. He started a hereford stud and carried on developing the corriedale breed first established at the property in 1921. He sold sheep to South America during the 1950s and 1960s.
When John and Andy Mackintosh took over on Ian's death, they continued to subdivide and upgraded the water scheme.
They handed over to the Hobans a well-respected sheep and beef property carrying 6000 stock units; a mix of breeding ewes and replacements, plus breeding cows and heifer replacements.
James Hoban is looking forward to the challenge of dryland farming on the coast.
"What the Amuri Basin has become does not fit our farming philosophy. Although it was a wrench to sell Parham Hills we think grandad Willy and great-grandad James would have been pleased with Glenafric. We are looking forward to being full-time sheep farmers again.
"We are not in a hurry to make changes to what the Mackintoshs have done and we want to take on board their experience with the farm over such a long tenure. However, one thing that does stick out is the definite opportunity with Glenafric to diversify beyond traditional farming.
That said, sheep will remain Glenafric's principal focus under the Hobans.
"We say we are sheep people. More specific than that we are corriedale people. We have had a registered stud in the family since the 1920s. Since the Mackintoshs also have one of the oldest corriedale studs in the flock book, moving to the farm that has been their base gives us a bit of scale. It's a good option for us to carry on with the breed. We have confidence in the future of the breed and Glenafric is great corriedale country."