The cream is rising thanks to a dairy switch

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2014
Justin Dunlop is the variable order sharemilker at Papakauri Farms, Mahoenui. He is in partnership with  his wife, Kim.
Fairfax NZ

HAPPY SHAREMILKER: Justin Dunlop is the variable order sharemilker at Papakauri Farms, Mahoenui. He is in partnership with his wife, Kim.

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Milk production on a King Country farm is surging ahead under the ownership of a Taranaki-based syndicate.

The 388-hectare Papakauri Dairies property at Mahoenui is in an area where beef and sheep farming predominate.

Established and managed by Taranaki-based Farm Venture, Papakauri Dairies is owned by a Taranaki syndicate chaired by retired Hawera chartered accountant Neil Taylor.

There's a dairy farm across the road from Papakauri Dairies; otherwise, the closest dairy farm is 22 kilometres away at Aria. Milk produced on the farm is collected by Fonterra for processing either at the Whareroa site near Hawera, 172km away, or at Te Awamutu, 95km to the north.

A total of 630 friesian cows are milked on the farm which consists of a 203ha dairy platform on river flats and rolling hills, a 56ha block of pine and redwood trees, 62ha of rolling to steep country for replacement stock and 29ha in maize and 15ha in turnip.

Each season 360 tonnes of palm kernel expeller (PKE) is purchased. The cost of the dry matter consumed on the farm is 15c/kg.

The Mahoenui farm, with fertile ash soils, is one of only two dairy farms on the Awakino River. At an altitude of 60m, it is summer safe because the river creates a morning fog which keeps the pasture lush and green.

Sharemilkers Justin and Kim Dunlop in their first season on the farm in 2012-13 lifted production from 190,000kg MS to 223,000kg MS, so the effect of last summer's drought was minimal. The couple, who have five children aged between four and 12, are on target for 238,000kg MS this season.

Farm Venture chief executive Tim Barrett said in two seasons on the farm, the couple would boost production by 50,000kg MS because they managed the feed supply so well.

On their watch, the herd's somatic cell count has fallen from about 350,000 to below 200,000 over most of the season.

Barrett said the couple, who moved to the King Country from the Manawatu, were dedicated and conscientious. They lease 88 cows to the syndicate.

Conditions on the farm are good for dairy farming - plentiful rainfall, warm temperatures and good soil drainage. Pugging occurs in only three of its 50 paddocks.

Papakauri Dairies was bought at 2008 for $9m when farm prices were peaking. Converted from a sheep and beef farm over a six-month period, it now features a new 50-bail rotary shed and yard, a feedpad, new fences, two water troughs in each paddock, a 40-day effluent pond storage system and a low application spray irrigation system that irrigates 40ha. The woolshed was converted to calfsheds.

Water is re-used four times - after going through the cooler in the cowshed, it's used to hose the shed, then pumped as green water to wash down the feedpad ready to spread on the pasture as a nutrient resource.

Judicious fertiliser application is based on soil tests in each paddock.

"The soil tests give us the real fertility in each paddock, so fertiliser is applied in the right places. It's cost-effective and better for the environment.

"We use the nutrients responsibly to build up the organic matter in the soil," Barrett said.

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Justin Dunlop said having plenty of feed on hand made operation of the farm easy. A feed plan is prepared for the year, in two-week segments.

He conducts regular pasture rides to measure the farm's pasture cover and grass growth. "We maximise the use of the grass we grow.

"It's the best set-up I've ever been involved in. I love it. If the farm was sold, I'd follow Tim to another job. We have a really good working relationship," said Dunlop who's been in the dairy industry since he was 17.

"Work is fun. Communication is good and everyone knows what they're expected to do."

The 630-cow herd is divided into a young herd which receives priority feed and an older herd. Milking each herd takes just 1 1/2 hours and can be done by one person at this time of year.

Dunlop said the farm was designed well and the facilities were good. "The lifestyle is good and everyone has plenty of time off. It's good for the kids - there's bush and swimming holes.

The farm owners were great. "They're not in your face. They let you farm. I couldn't ask for anything better," he said.

Taylor said he liked working with Barrett because he focused on separating governance and management. "I like working in that environment because the lines are clear. As a director, the worst thing you can do is cross the line and think you can manage the farm."

Barrett, the sharemilkers and the directors enjoyed an extremely good working relationship.

Farm ownership through a syndicate provided an opportunity for sharemilkers and urban residents to have a stake in the dairy industry, he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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