Sharing ideas in the global farming village

ON SHOW: The native bush above the banks of the Waitara River provides a backdrop for Tarata beef and sheep farmer Bryan Hocken as he talks to Kiwi academics and farmers from Finland.
ON SHOW: The native bush above the banks of the Waitara River provides a backdrop for Tarata beef and sheep farmer Bryan Hocken as he talks to Kiwi academics and farmers from Finland.

Taranaki sheep and beef farming identity Bryan Hocken loves to play host.

He presents a unique blend of bonhomie, humour, a passion for his industry and a ready-to-share approach to anyone who happens to pop along to his 485 hectare Tarata farm, about 25 kilometres east of Inglewood.

Not that you would just pop along.

The farm seems remote after a picturesque drive over the winding Tarata Saddle and along the 3km Toe Toe Rd beside the Waitara River.

On the journey traffic is scarce so a single traffic light in the middle of nowhere on the road to the farm raises a chuckle - as do a plethora of signs saying things like "Wannabe Dairy Farm" and "High St".

You expect to have gained some altitude after the drive over the saddle, so it's a surprise to learn the woolshed is just 60m above sea level and the house nearby just 90m.

Leave your cellphone in the car because reception is non-existent - so there, the farm is remote.

A display of several New Zealand flags festoons the outside of the woolshed. Inside, numerous banners give some clue to the number of companies Hocken does business with. As a considerate host, he's even designated a chair for accredited media.

Beef+Lamb NZ Western North Island extension manager and new Nuffield scholar Mel Poulton, of Feilding, was a member of a tour party which visited the Hocken farm last week.

The visitors consisted of AgResearch and Massey University researchers, scientists from Finland and Indonesia, and about 20 Finnish cattle breeders. The group from Finland is spending two weeks in New Zealand and also visited Faull Farms' dairy operation at Tikorangi during its one-day visit to Taranaki.

"It's an opportunity for our farmers to talk with farmers from the other side of the world and to gain a perspective and understanding of what happens elsewhere," Poulton said.

"We're living in a global village and the more we can understand, the better."

Beef+Lamb NZ's Western North Island Farmer Council, of which Hocken is a member, held a meeting on the farm during the visit. Beef+Lamb New Zealand Farmer Council chairman and King Country farmer Martin Coup described the Hocken farm as immaculate and a showcase beef and sheep farm.

In true country style, the Tarata Community Church provided the visitors with a lavish morning tea and buffet lunch to raise funds to reroof the historical church built in 1905. Ever the hosts, Bryan and Helen Hocken welcome visitors to their farm throughout the year. As well as international visitors, Taranaki groups like the hunt club, caravan clubs and scouts enjoy the Hockens' hospitality.

The Hockens' original 222ha property at Tarata was bought by Bryan Hocken's father, Mervyn Hocken, after he sold his Waverley dairy farm.

For a year Mervyn Hocken milked 20 dairy cows on the farm and supplied cream to the Moa dairy factory at Inglewood before turning to sheep farming.

Bryan left school in 1965 to work on an adjacent 263ha property his father had bought.

"When I left school, my job was to spray gorse," he said.

By 1973 he was married and he and Helen managed the farm after his father moved to town. When they took it over in 1982, they focused on weed control and improving farm infrastructure, although the 8.5km of boundary on the Waitara River hampered development.

Mervyn Hocken had introduced a fertiliser programme and applied superphosphate each year. Soil tests have been conducted annually for the last 10 or so years and fertiliser is now applied in January each year. Urea is applied over the easy country each spring.

The farm has a flock of 2600 romney ewes and carries about 900 ewe lamb replacements. Male lambs are finished on the farm and 500 ewe lambs are sold as capital stock in autumn. This year the ewes scanned at 171 per cent.

At the end of each year the Hockens buy up to 500 hereford- friesian heifers and mate them to angus bulls. They're pregnancy tested in late March and sold around the North Island as in-calf heifers to regular clients. Up to 150 service bulls are bought as yearlings each year and sold to the dairy industry as 2-year-olds.

After years working in the corporate world, daughter Sarah became the third generation to work on the farm when she and husband Jarred Coogan moved to the property three years ago.

"It's a pretty special place to live," she said.

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Taranaki Daily News