Long road to success for award-winning farm

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 08:44 10/04/2014
Sharemilkers Tony and Loie Penwarden and Faull Farms owners Carol, Gavin and Oliver Faull are the supreme winners of the  inaugural Taranaki Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ

WINNERS: Sharemilkers Tony and Loie Penwarden and Faull Farms owners Carol, Gavin and Oliver Faull are the supreme winners of the inaugural Taranaki Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

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Long recognised as a Taranaki dairy industry leader, Tikorangi's Trewithen Farm has achieved the ultimate accolade with its win in an environmental competition.

Trewithen Farm owner Faull Farms Limited and sharemilkers Tony and Loie Penwarden were named supreme winners of the 2014 Taranaki Ballance Farm Environment Awards at last week's gala awards evening in New Plymouth.

Now held in 10 regions, the Ballance Farm Environment Awards are organised by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust which formed a partnership last year with the Taranaki Regional Council to bring the contest to Taranaki this year for the first time.

The national finals will be held in Christchurch on June 26.

The directors of Faull Farms Ltd are father and son Gavin and Oliver Faull, whose ancestors settled part of the 371ha property near Waitara in 1867.

Gavin Faull's great-grandfather, Henry Faull, was just seven years old when he arrived in New Plymouth in 1841 as a passenger on the William Bryan, the first of the New Zealand Company's ships to reach New Plymouth.

After serving in the militia during the Taranaki Land Wars, Henry Faull received 200 acres of land at Tikorangi in 1867 as part of a settlement package for volunteers.

In 1990, Gavin Faull took over management of the farm which by then had reduced in size to 40ha and had what he described as Taranaki's best crop of ragwort. Three of his four brothers are minority shareholders of Faull Farms.

When he took over the property, he named it Trewithen Farm as a link to the area in Cornwall where his ancestors lived before leaving for New Zealand in 1840.

All that remains of the original Faull homestead is the chimney surrounded by a stand of puriri. Today kauri are planted there to mark significant family events.

A Queen Elizabeth II National Trust covenant has also been established on a 1ha stand of native bush on the farm.

Although Gavin Faull has never farmed the property himself, its family heritage in this United Nations International Year of Family Farming is important to his vision of creating a business that's economically and environmentally sustainable.

"I said we would build the province's best dairy farm. It's been a long road, but we've got there."

He said Trewithen Farm would continue to be a farming business, but it would not be operated by his sons as hands-on farmers working the land.

"It's too big a gamble to tell people they have a heritage and that they have an obligation to it. That could become a burden. So it's an issue of succession planning. You can't give an obligation to your children.

"The business will continue, but the management will change."

The provision of storage for supplements, good races, and feedpads allow winter milking on the high-input farm, which has a stocking rate of 4.4cows/hectare.

Maize for silage is grown on four nearby run-offs totalling 89ha, turnips are planted on 6 per cent of the farm, and chicory was planted this season for the first time. Palm kernel expeller is used as a buffer. Effluent is applied over 136ha of the farm through a piping system.

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As sharemilkers on the farm since 2004, the Penwardens milk 1150 cows year-round on a 282ha milking platform. The farm is on target for production of 540,000kg milksolids (MS) this season, after nudging 488,000kg MS last season.

The farm was the first 50/50 sharemilking job for Tony and Loie Penwarden who in 2004 began milking 540 cows in a 29-a-side herringbone shed since converted into an automated calf-rearing facility. Now the couple milks 850 spring calving cows and 300 autumn calving cows in a state-of-the-art 60-bail rotary Dairymaster supershed that opened in 2007.

Tony Penwarden grew up on a dairy farm near Whanganui and his wife grew up near a logging town in northern California on a property with 100 hereford cattle.

After meeting overseas, they began their dairy farming career in south Taranaki in 1991 on the Normanby farm of Errol Burke. From there they moved to Te Kiri as managers on Ian and Judith Armstrong's farm, milking 350 cows and progressing to variable order sharemilkers milking 860 cows.

The Penwardens hosted a community barbecue at Tikorangi Hall in their first summer on the farm after realising they'd had no time to meet the neighbours. "We had 150 people turn up and it's become an annual event," Loie Penwarden said.

Tony Penwarden said surrounding themselves with good people was a major part of the couple's success.

Oliver Faull said the company was still building the business, but winning the inaugural Taranaki title was a great honour. "We're not operating it as well as we could. There's still lots of room to improve -providing shelter belts, trees, drainage system, better technology. "

Transferring farm data to the AgHub cloud-based data management system would assist in the identification of poor performing paddocks. Fertiliser could then be applied more efficiently, so more feed could be grown on the farm. "We're aiming to source as much feed as possible from the milking platform and the run-offs to maximise dry matter production."

The company entered the contest because it liked to benchmark itself and was surprised to win against a level of competition he described as impressive. "It's nice to compare yourself with others to highlight areas where you can improve."

Loie Penwarden said the win meant lots of Facebook messages. It showed that what was being done on the farm was successful, and more work would make it even better.

Support for the win was evident when the Penwardens' herd manager, Ron Hough, performed a haka before 32 employees, advisers and family members joined the couple and the Faulls on stage at the dinner after they were announced as winners.

Loie Penwarden said she was thrilled at the pride shown by the couple's staff. "They all dressed up and made a special effort for the dinner."

Gavin Faull said having the awards in Taranaki was exciting. Having Members of Parliament and Taranaki mayors at the dinner was an accolade to the importance of farming to Taranaki.

As chairman and president of Swiss-Belhotel International, he travels the world but maintains regular contact with the Penwardens. "I call them every week. I probably talk to Tony more than if I was his neighbour."

Naming Trewithen Farm the supreme Taranaki winner, the judges described it as a strong example of dairying achievement. They noted the partnership's technology and innovation, excellent production, focus on people and long-term commitment to the environment and recognised the contribution both couples made to the community.

Gavin Faull is on the Venture Taranaki board and the Faull family supports schools and sports clubs and New Plymouth's Len Lye Centre now under construction.

A field day will be held at Trewithen Farm on Friday May 23.

- Taranaki Daily News

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