Farmwatch 'speeds up' learning

BY NIKKI PRESTON
Last updated 09:36 19/05/2009
KATRINA BIELESKI/Waikato Times
WATCHFUL EYES: Kevin White and wife Rachel collect data for Farmwatch.

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In the last four years Kevin White has tackled a steep learning curve, going from knowing little about farming to managing a Te Aroha farm with 375 cows.

And despite running the farm, at the foot of the Kaimai Ranges, for three seasons, he is still learning through being a Farmwatch contributor.

For 28 years Kevin worked as a manager for a telecommunications firm, but four years ago a restructuring of the business gave him the opportunity to try his hand at farming on his parents-in law's farm.

So he enrolled in an Agriculture Industry Training Organisation and learned everything he could.
''I've had a change from not milking cows, to 140 cows then 360 cows the next year,'' Kevin says.

He started with 43ha, but three years ago moved to a 121ha block after the family decided to combine with a neighbouring property that was for sale.

Kevin and wife Rachel now have a quarter share in the farm he manages and Rachel's family are the other shareholders.

Kevin and one other full-time worker run the farm full-time, but can call in their wives to stand in so they can have the odd day off.

Kevin started collecting data for Farmwatch this season and says it's already changed how they do things. ''Farmwatch has sped up our learning of what the farm is capable of growing by clearly documenting when we would normally go by gut feel.'' And it is this additional knowledge that led Kevin to the decision of reducing stock numbers from 375 to 360 next season, which would take them back to a 3:1 rate and reduce the cost of feed supplements.

The farm produced 124,000kg milksolids this season, up on 116,000kg of milksolids last season.

But, like the majority of Farmwatch contributors, measuring the growth rate of the grass is the most important test they do. Kevin says it prompted the decision to dry off the cows in April, a month earlier than normal, because the cows had over-produced and the grass wasn't growing.

Although the grass wasn't as dry as last year due to the drought, he said March and April had also been pretty dry.

Kevin's eagerness to swap the office for the farm has certainly paid off and he was named farm manager of the year for the last two years running.

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- Waikato Times

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