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Farmers need to go hi-tech

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014
Sharemilker Jacques  Le Prou, seen with wife Vanessa, was selected as an emerging leader for the first  Rabobank Young Farmers Master Class in the Netherlands.
SUE O'DOWD/Fairfax NZ
EMERGING LEADER: Sharemilker Jacques Le Prou, seen with wife Vanessa, was selected as an emerging leader for the first Rabobank Young Farmers Master Class in the Netherlands.

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A coastal Taranaki dairy farmer has been tapped as a potential farming leader.

Jacques Le Prou was among about 40 emerging leaders from around the world who took part in Rabobank's first international Young Farmers Master Class in the Netherlands last month.

Virtually all the participants were from family farms, in recognition of the International Year of Family Farming this year.

A fifth-generation farmer on the coast, Le Prou and wife Vanessa are 50/50 sharemilkers with a 280-cow herd on an Oeo farm owned by his parents, Maurice and Robyn Le Prou and his uncles, Michael and Mark Stevenson, and their wives.

Mark Stevenson is the fourth generation of his family to own the Pihama farm bought in 1890 by John Stevenson. It was also farmed by John Stevenson's son, also called John, and grandson Ian, who was Mark Stevenson's father and Le Prou's grandfather.

Le Prou said the master class made him realise the importance of keeping pace with technology and the need to keep an open mind to take advantage of opportunities.

While their primary business was dairy farming, he and his wife were now asking themselves what other opportunities were available.

Vanessa Le Prou said she had noticed a marked change in her husband since his return from the Netherlands.

"Before, he was defined by the here and now. This event has encouraged us to set a few more goals. Sometimes you're so involved in the day-to-day business of running a farm you forget to step back and look at the big picture," she said.

"We strive to do our best here, but is it actually our best? And how can we do better?"

The couple both attended Lincoln University and have Bachelor of Commerce (Agriculture) degrees.

Le Prou said while the baby boomer generation seemed to regard farm succession as a problem that had to be solved, the mood at the master class was that it presented an opportunity.

Other issues discussed were technology, farming sustainability and the need to use less to produce more to feed the world's growing population. "We need everyone to aspire to produce more - not only in New Zealand but in other countries as well."

It also became apparent to him that farmers of the future would need a good education. "Computer technology will be huge on farms and farmers will need to be well- educated to understand it."

Increasingly, drones would provide farmers with instant information about things like pasture cover, daily pasture growth and fertiliser requirements. "And they'll be able to respond instantly."

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One of six New Zealanders selected for the Rabobank event, Le Prou spent 10 days in the Netherlands, including three days on a 50ha dairy farm where 180 friesian cows were milked.

He said the cows were extremely large - much larger than friesians in New Zealand - and had huge feet that resembled clogs. Each one produced 700kg of milksolids a year. The animals were housed year-round in a barn attached to a 28-bail rotary milking shed.

Effluent collected beneath the barn's floor of rubber matting was stored in a tank and drilled into the soil just twice a year. There was no irrigation.

The animals ate maize silage and grass silage grown on the farm. Feeding was on demand, although collars measuring the animals' intake prevented over- eating.

Calves and yearlings were kept in separate sheds and rising two- year-olds were grazed off the farm. Each week the farmer drove an hour in his tractor to the grazing block to collect two or three heifers that were due to calve. "There's no season - winter or summer, it's exactly the same."

The family farm was run by a couple gradually buying it from one set of parents. Buying a neighbouring farm was a concept that was unheard of.

Le Prou said Dutch farmers seemed happy with the way the dairy industry operated in the Netherlands and with the prices they were receiving. They regarded Fonterra as the world's leading dairy company.

- Taranaki Daily News

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