“Every farmer wants to leave the land better than they find it,” says Castlepoint Station owner Anders Crofoot.
Anders and Emily Crofoot farm on a 3,700ha station which spans 12km of the Wairarapa coastline and supports a sheep and beef operation and farm forestry. Most of the land is steep to rolling hill country with a small proportion (less than 10%) as flats and terraces. The station has three alluvial valleys, separated by hills that in some places run north-south and in others east-west.
When the Crofoots bought the farm, it had been advertised as a 28,000 stock unit property. The couple were keen to bring this number down while maintaining profitability.
They worked with the regional council (Greater Wellington) to map the different land use capabilities (LUC) across the property.
This process identifies the physical limitations of the land (e.g. rock, soil, slope, erosion type and severity, and vegetation) and uses that determine its capacity for long-term sustained production.
For the parts of the farm sheltered from the northwesterlies, the Crofoots have concentrated their efforts on maintaining soil productivity and improving efficiency and animal performance.
On the flats and terraces, direct drilling reduces soil disturbance and wind erosion. The Crofoots are also experimenting with deeper-rooting forages, such as lucerne and fescue, that extract moisture from the soil more effectively without compromising feed quality and help hold the soil together.
Lucerne and fescue, along with other novel forages such as plantain, plus clover, are helping lift capital stock performance. Rape and kale are also sown to help with feed supply and grazing management, especially in summer and again in late winter when covers are low.
The Crofoots now have around 10,500 breeding ewes and their replacements, along with 400 beef cows and their replacements. This is a significant reduction in stock numbers from when they first took over, but not at the cost of their bottom line. They have increased their lambing percentages from 125% to nearly 135% – producing the same number of lambs but from fewer breeding ewes. Weaning weights have increased from 19kg to 28kg. The lower capital ewe numbers have allowed them to finish more of their own lambs which increases profitability and spreads financial risk.
Anders sees their efforts as simply “good farming practice”, but what difference have they made for the climate?
The Crofoots have been thinking about climate change and Castlepoint’s contribution for a while now, including in Anders’ various roles with Federated Farmers.
They use Farmax to get their greenhouse gas numbers and have also found Beef + Lamb’s calculator a handy tool.
For the Crofoots, their emissions are driven by the sheep and cattle they run and the fertiliser they apply.
It was a proud moment when they realised that their actions on-farm have achieved a 21% reduction in net emissions since 2003.
With their numbers in place and a solid track record of reductions underway, they are well placed to start developing a plan to manage them.
At the same time, the focus on increasing animal performance and making overall productivity gains meant that farm profitability has been enhanced. This has been achieved by:
- Increasing lambing percentage
- Finishing animals faster and to higher weights
- Culling less productive stock
- Reducing nitrogen fertiliser use, only applying it where and when it is needed.
Adjusting their farm system to match the capabilities of the land has also helped. They have improved pasture management to optimise quality and production and to balance growth with utilisation. Retiring less productive areas from grazing and planting them in trees has generated an additional revenue stream both from forestry and the Emissions Trading Scheme. And they’re still working hard to support healthy soils on the property.
Read more about the Anders here