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Grain growing driven by vision and scale

Pioneer® brand seeds maize grower and Federated Farmers Grain Council Maize Growers Committee Chairman Colin MacKinnion (centre), with Genetic Technologies Chairman and Founder Philip Yates (left) and Managing Director William Yates (right)

Grain growing driven by vision and scale

2005/06 Season

Owners: Colin MacKinnon
Farm location: Bay of Plenty and South Auckland
Farm size: 1000 hectares
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 33J24, 34E79, 34K77, 38P05
Number of seasons growing: 25

Large scale maize grower Colin MacKinnon has spread his cropping risk between two provinces, and in doing so has become one of New Zealand’s largest grain growers.

Colin started growing maize in 1981 for his dairy farm. Soon he realised his dairy farm would need to grow substantially if he was to stay in dairying. Instead of growing the dairy farm he decided to turn his 30 hectare farm into cropping.

Today he grows 8,000 tonnes of maize grain and 6,000 tonnes of maize silage. He invests $2.5 million in the crop every year from planting to harvesting on close to 1,000 hectares.

From his initial 30 hectares at Whakatane, Colin leased a neighbour’s farm and has continued to grow ever since.

"I felt I took a horrendous punt at the time, paying $195 an acre for the lease in the early eighties. It paid off and I just decided to take on more land as it became available."

Four years ago Colin recognised the potential in land located near Mangatawhiri, South of Auckland. This peat country looked promising with its good contour at an affordable price.

Again this calculated risk paid off. His land area is now split between a third in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and two thirds at Mangatawhiri.

Colin traces his success along the same trajectory as Pioneer® brand seeds, and proudly and rightly claims a significant stake in the Company’s initial success here.

In 1989 Colin was a director of Cereals RD&M Ltd, a large Bay of Plenty grain grower. Genetic Technologies Chairman and founder Philip Yates approached the company with the suggestion of supporting Pioneer seed. They agreed and were responsible for putting considerable support behind the seed company.

"It has been a great relationship we have enjoyed over the years. For their part I believe Pioneer have continued to deliver by sharing all their trial information, encouraging research and development, and are always available with reliable agronomy support."

"Without them there are a lot of small growers who would not be in maize today."

Across the two regions Colin relies on a mix of hybrids that fit the need to deliver early grain to the market, and the variable soil types.

On the heavier country he plants Pioneer® brand 33J24 as it is a heavy yielding hybrid that performs well on good soils.

Colin also plants Pioneer® brand 38P05 for its early maturity. For good early growth and its excellent grain characteristics he also plants Pioneer® brand 34K77. The light ashy soils are also well suited for planting Pioneer® brand 34E79, with its renowned hardiness and drought tolerance on the lighter Whakatane ash soils.

"We put the 38P05 in first and last. Putting it in early means we start producing grain for the starch market early in autumn. The 107 CRM hybrids such as 34K77 go in next and we go shorter at the end of October with the 38P05 again."

Planting at Whakatane starts in late September and Mangatawhiri mid-October.

Colin works on the premise that it is almost impossible not to have the weather misbehave at some stage across the operation. Colin believes his geographic spread and hybrid selection reduce the risk and maximise the return of his operation. He enjoys an impressive 11.5 tonnes per hectare average across his whole operation.

With fuel prices climbing, Colin is a strong advocate for the potential maize has as a source of bio-fuel raw material. He estimates 7,000 hectares of maize would need to be grown to supply an ethanol plant and is prepared to contribute crop and capital to such a project.

"There is plenty of land that is under-producing and also ex-dairy farms around that could be put into maize growing. I am hoping we can get something going in the near future," he says.