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Guy and Isobel Nicol

Guy and Isobel Nicol

2015/16 Season

Owners: Guy and Isobel Nicol
Farm location: Eastern Bay of Plenty
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P0725, P1253, P0891 and 34P88.

Guy purchased the home farm, which was part of the Apanui Soldier Settlement Scheme, in 1961. He and Isobel milked cows for 25 years, slowly increasing herd size as they purchased additional blocks from the Department of Lands and Survey.

In the 1950’s and 60’s there were no stop banks and a significant part of the Opotiki district would flood regularly as the Waioeka and Otara Rivers broke their banks. The Nicol’s started purchasing additional land after the record 1964 flood which covered most of the 64 square kilometre floodplain and filled nearly all of Opotiki’s 650 homes with muddy water.

“Following the flood there were no fences and most of the paddocks were covered in silt” says Guy. 

The couple’s first maize was a greenfeed crop used to feed their Jersey herd. “We used a 1-row Pottinger harvester to chop it into a trailer and then we had to shovel it off in the paddock” says Guy. “It was heavy work, but it sure beat pulling turnips”.

As they added more area to their farm, blocks which were too far from the milking shed were planted in maize for grain.

At one point Guy was cultivating 112 acres with a Massey Ferguson 135 and a 2-furrow plough.

“He used to plough day after day” says Isobel. “By night all you could see were the whites of his eyes because he was covered in dust!”.

Prior to Pioneer® brand maize seed being available in New Zealand the dominant hybrids were Northrup King and Dekalb. Renowned for poor standability they had to be harvested at high moistures before they fell over. Carting wet maize was expensive and as a consequence most maize growing areas had their own drying facilities. Opotiki was no exception.

In the 1970’s there were three grain driers in town including one built by entrepreneur Peter Innes-Smith. Fuelled on oil imported from South America, it spewed large amounts of smoke over the town for the duration of the maize drying season.

Around this time, Guy began agricultural contracting and was involved with preparing Pioneer small plot trials for Yates on the edge of the Ohiwa Harbour.

“We planted the headlands and drilled the starter fertiliser for the trials which were all hand-planted”.

These trials helped identify the first Pioneer® brand maize hybrids which were introduced to the New Zealand market in 1976.

“They yielded about the same as the existing hybrids but they could be left to field dry and they didn’t fall over” says Guy. “That was a big advantage”.

As their maize area grew and the contracting business expanded, the couple had to decide which direction they wanted to head. The cows were sold and the entire farm was planted in maize grain.

Guy’s farm records consist of dozens of well-worn diaries stored in a plastic box fondly referred to by Isobel as “Guy’s computer”. They record all the details of a lifetime of maize growing including weather conditions, planting dates, harvesting dates, hybrids, fertiliser, herbicides and yields.

The couple came third in the 1983 Bay of Plenty region Ammo-Phos NZ Ltd Maize Grower of the Year Competition with a 13.00 t/ha crop of XL72. More recently they have won the Bay of Plenty Regional Yield Cup in the Pioneer® brand seeds Maize for Grain competition twice with 33J24. Their trial yielded 12.96 t/ha in 2006 and 16.56 t/ha in 2009.

While there have been a lot of good years, Guy remembers two particularly challenging ones.

“After the storm which sunk the Wahine (April 1968) and Cyclone Bola (March 1988) we had to pick all the maize grain crops up off the ground”.

In the 2015-16 season the Nicols’ have planted 915 ha of maize grain consisting of 517 ha of grain around Opotiki and 398 ha around the East Cape. They have also planted 120 ha of maize silage on local dairy farms.

Since all the maize grain is dried a significant distance away, Guy is looking for hybrids which have strong stalks and roots which will enable them to stand until they are less than 20% moisture. In the 2015-16 season they have planted a combination of Pioneer® brand P0725, P1253, P0891 and 34P88.

“At the end of the day it is the bank balance that’s important”.

Since spring 2015, their son Grant has taken over the management of the coastal crops, leaving Guy to manage the land closer to home.

All the paddocks are ploughed and traditionally cultivated. Planting starts in late September and finishes in late October.

According to Guy the two biggest challenges to maize growing are birds, especially pheasants which are prolific around the coast, and weeds.

“We are seeing a lot more hard-to-kill weeds creeping into maize paddocks” says Guy. “We use a pre-emergent herbicide and then wait to see what grows before we decide which post-emergent to apply”.

Harvesting starts in early May and is finished by the end of June. All the grain is dried in Te Puke. While most of the grain is sold for stockfeed, Guy retains a portion of the crop to supply his local Opotiki clients’ whole and kibbled maize requirements.

Over the past few decades Guy has collected and immaculately restored an impressive collection of vintage farm machinery which is displayed in several large sheds on the home farm. Grandson Denny Brunt, who has just finished
school, shares his passion for equipment and it seems likely that before long there could be another generation involved in the family’s successful maize business.