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Reliable income for a sustainable farm

Reliable income for a sustainable farm

2021/22 Season

Owners: Brendon & Rachel Williams
Farm location: Marton, Rangitikei
Farm size: 170 ha
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P8805 & P8500

“We entered because we knew it would help us build our knowledge and also benchmark ourselves against others who are practicing excellence” says Brendon. “Every farmer should probably have a go at it. For us it was never about the accolades”

The Williams are third generation farmers on Pencoed Trust, a 170-ha property at Tutaenui, north of Marton. The property grows around 30 ha of maize for grain each season as part of the farm’s cropping operations. The cropping rotation includes three years in pasture ahead of a maize grain crop, followed by winter wheat, then barley or peas. On the livestock side, the Williams graze around 100 dairy heifers, and buy-in and finish 2000 to 2500 lambs and up to 100 beef heifers.

The farm was originally purchased for its excellent soils and decision-making focuses on caring for this valuable resource. For the past two seasons the maize crop has been established using a strip till system.

“We moved to strip till to reduce the number of machinery passes and the crop establishment cost, while at the same time minimising our environmental footprint” says Brendon. “There is a lot less soil disturbance and a reduced opportunity for sediment loss”.

The Williams opted for a two-pass establishment system. The whole paddock is sprayed out and 7-10 days later is strip-tilled and left for a further 7-10 days prior to planting.

“We are at 200m above sea level and for even establishment we need to let the soils warm and dry a little before planting” says Brendon.

Brendon has planted Pioneer maize seed for many seasons.

“Every year when the seed turns up you know that it is consistent high quality, the hybrids are backed by plenty of research and there is always excellent back-up and support from the local field team”.

This season the main crop is Pioneer® brand P8805 and there is a smaller area of P8500 in the ground.

“We are looking for a hybrid that grows well and produces consistent yields under cooler conditions” says Brendon. “We don’t want to push too long in terms of maturity because it is important to get the grain harvested before our soils get too wet”.

The grain crop normally comes off in mid to late May when it is around 18% moisture. The average crop yield is around 12 t/ha.

“Maize grain has been a reasonably reliable performer for us” says Brendon.

Last season the clover in the pasture grew back to form a cover crop under the maize that was used to fatten lambs following the harvest. In other seasons a cover crop of oats mops up excess nutrients over the winter months and provides valuable early spring feed for livestock.

The farm is in one of Horizons Regional Councils priority catchments for minimising nutrient losses. A farm plan was completed in 2009 and the accompanying Overseer file revealed the farm, which was at the time grazing dairy cattle in the winter, was leaching 31 kg of nitrogen per hectare. Changes to the farm’s livestock policy and cropping rotation has allowed the couple to reduce this to just 17 kgN/ha.

A key part of the reduction process has been careful monitoring of soil fertility and nutrient inputs. Brendon does extensive soil testing, electromagnetic soil mapping and uses digital soil maps alongside GPS controlled farm machinery to ensure appropriate levels of nutrient are applied.

The judges at the Ballance Farm Environmental Awards were impressed with Brendon’s enthusiasm for using precision agriculture to produce sustainable yields and improve nutrient use-efficiency. They also commended on the couple’s crop and pasture rotation structure, which is designed to improve soil quality.

Other conservation methods on the farm include retirement planting, excluding stock from waterways, and retention dams to reduce run-off. The move to strip till has resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of fossil fuel use on the farm.

In the future the couple will continue to fine tune their operation to produce the best possible yields with the lowest possible inputs.

“It’s all about trying to optimise the system so we can produce a sustainable income whilst taking care of the environment” says Brendon.