Rugby club scores its own dairy farm

On Coastal Rugby & Sports Club’s dairy farm at Oaonui are club stalwarts Mark Trolove, left, and Dan Morgan, right, with ...
Sue O'Dowd/Fairfax NZ

On Coastal Rugby & Sports Club’s dairy farm at Oaonui are club stalwarts Mark Trolove, left, and Dan Morgan, right, with sharemilker Peter Kelbrick.

A proud Taranaki rugby club has become possibly the first in the country to own its own dairy farm.

Established 21 years ago, the Coastal Rugby & Sports Club submitted a tender for the purchase this season of an 80ha farm near Oaonui from Anne Fleming and family.

"The purchase was a big gamble for the club," said club stalwart Mark Trolove, who liaises between the club, sharemilkers Peter and Larissa Kelbrick and farm supervisor Peter Moffitt.

Ray Barron was the driving force behind Coastal Rugby & Sports Club’s dairy farming operation.
Sue O'Dowd/Fairfax NZ

Ray Barron was the driving force behind Coastal Rugby & Sports Club’s dairy farming operation.

"There are strong links between coastal farmers, players, former players, the club and the ANZ Bank, which has been really supportive of this venture."

Trolove said the farm was an exciting investment that would secure Coastal's rugby future. While the short-term focus was paying off debt, in the long-term the farm would be a magnificent asset that would mean the club could help its players and provide good facilities for its members.

"We"ll extract the bare minimum from the farm in the first five years because our focus will be to retire debt to leave us in a strong position in future.

"We're not in the business of buying players. This is about player welfare and the right facilities, infrastructure and environment.

"You'd be struggling to find any other club in New Zealand that owns a farm. It will become a showcase for us and will be something the whole coastal community will be proud of."

The public will have an opportunity to check out the farm at an open day on Tuesday when the club's two All Blacks, former captain Graham Mourie and former TRFU boss Mark Robinson, will be guests.

"It's a chance for the whole coast to come and see our new farm," said Trolove.

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"It's been a big call, but I think they'll be more than happy with what we've decided. It will safeguard the club for the future.

"What we are doing is the right thing for our rural club because it maximises our strengths."

A dividend drawn from the farming operation runs the club and funds player welfare, jerseys and junior and high school rugby. "We don't pay players. We breed our own players on the coast."

Coastal Rugby & Sports Club was established 21 years ago when the Opunake, Rahotu, and Okato rugby clubs amalgamated. The three clubs retain their own morning grade teams and combined teams of secondary students at Opunake High School and Coastal Taranaki School are fielded. Inaugural president Bernie Fleming pulled together the three factions to create a strong and united club.

"And the young players of today know only Coastal," Trolove said.

As the new club was getting established, members were tossing around ideas to buy a business and a proposal by stalwart Ray Barron to buy cows and lease a farm got the nod.

Years later the Taranaki Rugby Football Union drew on the experience of Barron, by then a director, to set up the Taranaki Rugby Community Trust farm near Manaia to generate funds for community rugby. Barron was the trust's inaugural chairman.

The club leased Jim Lawn's Okato farm for 12 years before taking on the lease of Paddy Baker's Stent Rd farm.

Two years ago the club lost that lease and was faced with the possibility of selling the herd. But at the last minute Barron found a 93ha farm for lease at Pungarehu.

Trolove said Barron was an entrepreneur with the business contacts and business sense to make farming ventures work. "He has the best interests of the club at heart."

Trolove said obtaining the Pungarehu lease averted a crisis and the club didn't want to be in that situation again. So it submitted the tender for the Fleming farm. "Leasing was so successful that the club used the profit it had invested as a deposit on the farm at Oaonui."

When the club bought the farm, the Kelbricks had just completed the first season of a three-year contract as as 50/50 sharemilkers.

Trolove said milk production was up, although he concedes it could go either way. Between 80mm and 100mm of rain fell on the farm between February 1 and 3. "It really soaked in because the next few days were cloudy. So we had quick regrowth.

"The farm has done really well under Peter's management. It's a low-input farm and Peter and Larissa have done a magnificent job with the resources they have."

Earlier this month, milk production of 82,000kg milksolids (MS) was 20 per cent ahead of last season, which was better than the previous five years. Historically, production was around 70,000kg MS and it was already at 68,000kg. "We're hoping for 90,000kg MS," he said.

The farm is flat, with rectangular paddocks, and has a 20-a-side herring bone shed.

Development plans include re-aligning the tanker track, upgrading the effluent system, and planting the fenced bank of the Oaonui River, which forms the farm's southern boundary.

At the moment effluent is pumped to land. "It complies with our consent, but we're looking for 90-day storage and to have a bigger area under irrigation," Trolove said. "We know effluent disposal will be an issue in future. We want to be seen to be following best practice.

"With the payout drop, it's about dealing with the essentials. We have a tight budget this year, but long-term the outlook is positive."

A 10-year veteran of the Team Taranaki soccer side, where he plays centre back, Kelbrick made lots of supplement during spring. "If it's not too hard a summer, we should do well."

This season Kelbrick has introduced palm kernel expeller, buying 150 tonnes on contract and feeding 600kg to each of his 230 cows. He also feeds turnips.

The club continues to lease the Pungarehu farm, where a contract milker milks its 280-cow crossbred herd. Production there is 10 per cent ahead of last season. Club member Dan Morgan is the link between the contract milker, the club, farm supervisor and farm owner.

The lease will be up for renewal at the same time as the Kelbricks' sharemilking contract expires at the end of the next dairy season, offering various options for the farming operation.

Both Morgan and Trolove said long-standing sponsors were key to the success of the club's farming operation.

 - Taranaki Daily News

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