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Maize offers a better life off the land

Kiwitahi grain growers Julia and Mark Fausett.

Maize offers a better life off the land

2004/05 Season

Owners: Julia and Mark Fausett
Farm location: Morrinsville
Farm size: 34 hectares
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 36B08
Number of seasons growing: 1

A life beyond the milking shed is something dreamt about by many sharemilkers, but as land costs climb and cow prices remain flat the prospect of being free of the cow shed remains elusive for many.

But Morrinsville sharemilkers Mark and Julia Fausett decided after 17 years they were ready to quit their 450 cow herd, change their lifestyle and try something new. While dairying had provided a good income, both were tired of the hassles with staff, and the demands of a growing and busy family.

Mark had been growing up to 10 hectares of maize a year while dairying, and was keen to move to commercial maize growing.

"We pretty much knew what we wanted to do, but we could not find the land we wanted straight away," says Mark. After a year in Morrinsville, they found a 48 hectare block at Kiwitahi, west of Morrinsville, but were not able to settle on it until June 2004.The property was farmed as a dairy unit, and Mark opted to go back milking for three months, reminding himself why he had decided to stop. In September that year he bowled the fences, sold the cows and launched into maize growing commercially.

A year down the track the couple are adamant they have made the right decision. They planted 34 hectares of the 48 hectares into maize, leaving enough land on which to wean calves. The maize area was split equally between grain and silage supply, growing Pioneer® brand 36B08.

Even long time growers would testify last season was far from the best, with cool wet spring conditions and a hard dry summer. However Mark admits being "very happy" with the results he got with his chosen hybrid which coped extremely well with the less than ideal conditions. "These were virgin soils when it came to cropping, so we were hoping for a good yield, and we got it."

The Pioneer® brand 36B08 grain crop yielded 13 tonnes a hectare dried, and the silage crop 24 tonnes per hectare. Next season he looks forward to improving even further and is hungry to expand his knowledge of a crop he has always enjoyed growing.

To try and increase his yield even further next year, Mark is considering changing to Pioneer® brand 34B23, a hybrid that matures a week later. When the maize silage was planted in late October, the Fausetts only had a deposit from two farmers. However, with the increased popularity of maize silage and the ensuing shortage they easily sold it all without any problems.

"We enjoy a good relationship with Pratt Ag Contractors of Matamata and they were able to hook us up with buyers," says Mark.

The couple have enjoyed the new relationships formed through maize growing, and benefit from the advice of their local Wrightson Grain Territory Manager Paul Baker and Pioneer Area Manager Grant McDonald.

With a solid dairying background, they were used to the fertiliser and nitrogen inputs that maize demands, with solid side dressings of up to 400 kg nitrogen.

The outlay on machinery was minimal with the couple setting up with their own cultivation kit, including a power harrow, plough and Optimum seeder.

Mark admits the most daunting aspect of his first year was getting a handle on how the machinery operated and coping with some initial teething problems.

"Looking back though, there really is not too much I would do differently."

The couple now have more flexibility in their lives, both personally and professionally. Julia is looking to expand her beautician business which she presently operates from home. Mark shares tasks during the busy period with a friend also growing maize, leaving him time to consider off-farm work during the rest of the year.

Mark says it is still early days for the couple yet when it comes to assessing the profitability of growing maize against other land uses, but early indications are very favourable. The freedom to work off the farm is an opportunity they have never had before and worth something in itself they say.