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Diversity, adaptability and a “secret weapon” key to successful grain operation

Diversity, adaptability and a “secret weapon” key to successful grain operation

2017/18 Season

Owners: Mark Fausett and Angela Thomasen
Farm location: Morrinsville
Farm size: 450 ha
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P1253, P0791, P0725, P0891, P9911

He cites adaptability, diversification, loyal staff, self reliance, nutrient preservation and, as most successful businessmen have, a secret weapon that gives him a competitive edge. In Mark’s case it’s his partner Angela Thomasen along with long time friend Garry Fotheringham who have helped him expand from 40 ha of maize to a 450 ha operation in just 12 years.

When he started out he had a 48 ha block in the Waikato region of Kiwitahi that was growing 50% maize for silage and 50% maize for grain. As the dairy industry expanded, the silage demand increased to the point where he was only growing about 5 ha for grain and the rest was sold directly to local farmers to help them boost their milk production.

He leased another 300 ha of land in various allotments in the Waikato region. He then became a shareholder in an additional 91 ha block near Te Kauwhata. About 18 months ago, when the demand for silage decreased, Mark adjusted his silage output accordingly and is now back to producing half silage and half grain.

Another stabilising feature of Mark and Angela’s operation is they don’t rely on outside contractors. They have a long-standing core crew who prepare the soil, plant the seed, apply fertiliser, harvest the crop, and stack the maize silage all themselves. Having complete control of the operation gives Mark a degree of certainty about overall production costs.

In choosing which hybrids to plant he has to consider the end use (silage or grain) along with soil variations and weather conditions for each of the blocks. For silage he mostly uses Pioneer® brand P0891 with a bit of Pioneer® brand P9911 and he inoculates the majority with the rapid-fermenting Pioneer® brand 1174 and the remaining 10% with 11C33. For the grain crop, he plants P1253, P0791 and P0725 which are chosen primarily for maximum yield for the soil type, with consideration also given to drought tolerance in the drier blocks and stalk strength in the more exposed areas.

Mark is very quick to point out a huge part of their success story is due to Angela, who manages the office, handles all of the invoicing and accounts and is also very hands-on in the field. While Garry manages the workshop, takes care of breakdowns and will drive anything when required. Looking after the soil is another key factor in maintaining a consistent output. “Our first grain harvest on the original block was 14.5 t/ha and 12 years later the same paddock yielded 14.6 t/ha. You can’t do that if you’re depleting the nutrients.”

Building long-term relationships is another key factor in their success. Especially with their local fertiliser company and with his Pioneer representatives Paul Baker, who handles the seed supply, and Grant McDonald who they rely on for agronomic advice. Mark has reached the stage where he tells them how much of each hybrid he wants to order, before double checking to make sure they agree with his choices.

As time marches on, he’s finding the extra labour required to make silage a bit more demanding, so thinks he might switch to more grain the closer he gets to retirement. Looking ahead, Mark is committed to growing Pioneer. “They put so much research into their crops, especially the know you can always rely on them.”