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The Fleming Family

The Fleming Family

2015/16 Season

Owners: The Fleming Family
Farm location: Palmerston North
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 37Y12, P9721, 38P05, P9400 and P9911

They planted their first maize more than 40 years ago and today the crop provides a major source of income for the company.

David and his younger brother Robert grew up on the family dairy farm at Rongotea, 30 km west of Palmerston North. Neither brother was keen on milking cows so when they left school they ventured into agricultural contracting, baling hay and harvesting cereal grain.

“There was a time when Dad would harvest 100,000 conventional hay bales in a season” says David’s son Russell. “We would have to go out into the paddocks and help him shift them”.

After a few years David purchased the farm next to where he grew up which was owned by an uncle. He planted barley and wheat in the first years, but subsequently found that maize grain was a better fit with his contracting business.

“The problem with cereals is they have a really narrow harvest window” says Russell. “We would be out contract harvesting for local farmers while our own cereal crops fell onto the ground. Maize grain harvest is much less time critical”.

“Maize also offers higher yields and you can grow it year after year in the same paddocks. Cereals need to be rotated otherwise you get major disease issues”.

Robert purchased the family dairy farm which was also converted to crop. Slowly the pair expanded their operation adding owned and leased land as well as cultivation, planting and harvesting equipment and a home-built grain drying complex.

Today three generations of the family are involved in the business. While David has taken a step back, Robert, his son Jason, Russell and his son Dion are all actively involved in the day-to-day operation of Fleming Brothers Agricultural Contracts Ltd.

Robert and Jason run the combines and harvest the silage. Jason does all the planting. Russell and Dion operate the trucks, baling and cultivation equipment, feed milling and the drier.

“Everyone is responsible for an area of the business and they have freedom to make decisions within their area” says Russell. “But there is a lot of give-and-take and we are always happy to help each other out”.

Individuals make the final decision as to the machinery they operate in their sector of the business.

“We’ve got Case and John Deere combines, a Claas forage harvester and nine tractors in three different colours depending on who bought them!”

Each year the family plants around 500 ha of maize grain on owned and lease land. They also plant around 500 ha of maize silage for local dairy farmers. 

In the 2015-16 season they have planted a mix of Pioneer® brand 37Y12, P9721, 38P05, P9400 and P9911 for grain and silage.

“We are looking for hybrids which produce high yields and have fast drydown. High disease resistance is important and we need good root and stalk strength ratings so plants can handle the high Manawatu winds. We like to stay around 96 CRM because we find the shorter maturity hybrids work better for us. With tight planting and harvesting early we can produce high quality grain reliably each season”.

“We like Pioneer hybrids because the seed purity is high, the early vigour is good and we like the way the company has supported and helped grow the maize industry”.

Maize planting starts the second week of October when soil conditions allow. The aim is to have all the grain crops in the ground by the first week in November. Silage planting finishes a week later.

Russell, who is a director of FAR representing the South Western North Island and has been a member of the maize research committee, is an advocate of reduced tillage methods. The planting programme includes minimum tillage and vertical strip tillage depending on the paddock’s soil type.

“Generally minimum tillage works best for us” says Russell. “Strip tillage is good but we can end up spending a lot on slug control”.

Auto-steer tractors help improve planting accuracy while GPS mapping is used to capture yield information, which is used to help make crop management decisions in subsequent seasons.

Maize grain harvest starts in late April and they aim to be finished by late May or early June at the very latest. 

“On the better ground we are expecting yields around 12.5 t/ha plus, which is around 25% higher than we achieved a decade ago”.

David and Robert built their first cereal drier which was fuelled with ambient air from a petrol motor in 1965. 35 years ago the gas line was brought onto the property and now the drying system runs on natural gas.

“Last year we dried 17,700 tonnes of maize grain and around 2,000 tonnes of cereal grain” says Russell. “We have capacity to store 10,000 tonnes at any one time”.

Up until three years ago the bulk of the grain was sold as whole maize into the poultry and deer industries. Three seasons ago they installed a disc mill and began selling processed maize grain directly to local dairy farmers.

“Last year two-thirds of our grain was processed and sold to dairy farmers” says Russell. “While sales are slower this year, we believe demand will increase again as soon as global milk prices stabilise and the milksolids payout lifts”.