Farm Profiles View Latest Profiles

Back to farm profiles

Maize growing and history go hand in hand

Isobel and Guy Nicol with ther collection of Vintage farm machinery.

Maize growing and history go hand in hand

2004/05 Season

Owners: Guy and Isobel Nicol
Farm location: Opotiki
Farm size: 800 hectares
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 33J24, 34D71, 34E79 and 34G13
Number of seasons growing: 25

With a quarter of a century of maize grain growing behind them, Guy and Isobel Nicol have a history all of their own in the industry.

Growing maize in the Opotiki district for all this time, the Nicols have expanded over the years from the time when they started off dairy farming. Guy and Isobel dairy farmed for 25 years but over that time Guy became increasingly interested in growing maize once he had tired of dairying. In 1981 he started growing maize on the East Coast while still milking cows. Isobel recalls the long days they put in, getting up early to milk at 4.30am before Guy headed down the coast to tend the maize blocks, while she stayed at home to complete afternoon milking.

"Looking back I don't know how we did it! Some days Guy would not be home before I0.00pm, before turning in and getting up to do it again the next day."

Before growing maize commercially Guy had been feeding his cows maize silage during the 60s and 70s, chopping it with a Pottinger silarator and feeding it out as green feed.

"We had tried all sorts of things over the years, including rape, swedes and turnips, but we seemed to always come back to maize, the cows always seemed to prefer it," says Guy.

Today in his late sixties he and Isobel grow 200 hectares of maize on the home farm, largely for grain production. Their son Grant also has 40 hectares of his own planted. With lease land added in, the Nicols harvest well over 800 hectares.

Guy has amassed a wealth of farming history from all over the region with his extensive collection of collectable agricultural machinery and equipment. His favourites include two John Deere single row maize planters, both rare and both very different.

He has also collected "a few" tractors along the way, including a Farmall F12 from the property he worked on when he first left school. Restoring the machinery involves stripping them back to their component parts, cleaning, painting and reassembling them. At present Guy is working on a John Deere horse drawn hay mower, a job he describes as his "rainy day" activity.

With all the gear under roof, Guy and Isobel host many people who are interested in old farm machinery. "To be honest I think I get as much fun talking to the people who come to look at all the gear as I do from fixing it up!" says Guy.

Despite having been farming for a very long time, Guy shows no signs of slowing down, still finishing up late at harvest time. As Isobel says, "If the bin is not full then he will stay there until it is!"

When not busy with maize planting and harvesting. Guy and Grant operate a contracting business that covers a wide area from Matawai to Waimana and the East Cape.

Over the last 25 years Guy has witnessed many changes in the industry, particularly regarding how cultivation is carried out.

"Ripping the ground is one thing we never did early on. It allows better aeration of the soil and we get better response with it."

He has seen nitrogen move from liquid to granular form, originally coming in tankers from Rotorua. Either way, he says maize requires a good side dressing of nitrogen which is as important now as it ever was.

Over the years Guy says he has increasingly seen crops become more consistent for yield, as hybrids have developed specifically for regions and uses.

Guy plants a range of Pioneer® brand hybrids, including 33J24, 34D71, 34E79 and 34G13 and selects these hybrids for their solid agronomic characteristics, as well as yield.