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Contract maize growing delivers income + lifestyle

Contract maize growing delivers income + lifestyle

2013/14 Season

Owners: Murray Frith and Chrissie Ryder
Farm location: Ohaupo
Farm size: 90 ha
Herd size: 300
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P0791 and 34P88

The couple were milking 300 cows on 90 ha near Ngahinapouri in the West Waikato when they made the switch to growing maize six years ago.

“The farm wasn’t really big enough for sharemilkers and we didn’t want to employ labour” says Murray. “I’d been milking cows since I left school more than 40 years ago and wanted to get out of the shed and have more of a life”.

The decision to sell the cows was made in the 2008-09 season when the forecast milksolids payout was more than $8.00 and the price of shares was high. The couple held an ‘in-milk’ cow sale in the spring. Their stock agent told them to cater for 200 people yet on the day only 15 cars turned up.

“It was a gut wrenching time” says Chrissie. “We wondered if we had made the right decision and whether we would come out of the auction with enough cash to make the change to cropping”.

Fortunately five of the cars were full of South Island livestock buyers. The herd sold for good money, generating an investment nest egg as well as more than enough cash to pay the upfront crop costs.

“Growing maize was a learning curve for us” says Murray. “But Pioneer® brand products Regional Manager Grant McDonald put us on the right track and we’ve never looked back”.

All of the crop work is done by a local contractor who also helps sell the crop. The area is sprayed out in the first week of October each year and fertiliser is applied according to soil test results. The maize crop is planted mid-October and in the 2013-14 season the couple have 55 ha of Pioneer® brand P0791 and 34P88 in the ground.

“Maize delivers reliable yields...the lowest average yield we have had was 19 tDM/ha in a drought year”.

“We like to trial the new hybrids as they come through the system” says Murray. “We’re looking for good yields, but we also want the crop off so we can get annual ryegrass established ahead of the winter”.

The majority of Murray and Chrissie’s crop is contracted to local dairy farmers within a few months of planting.

“We’re not trying to make a killing” says Murray. “We would rather have regular purchasers who come back to us each year”.

“Maize delivers reliable yields. We average 22-24 tDM/ha and the lowest average yield we have had was 19 tDM/ha in a drought year”.

Annual ryegrass is direct drilled after maize silage harvest in early March and in a favourable season it is ready for the first light grazing 3-4 weeks later. Murray buys bulls at the sales in the autumn and the majority go off the farm in the spring, although some are kept and graze the land which is not in maize.

The bull operation suits the couple, generating a good additional return while they are still fit and able to do the livestock work. They recognise that sometime down the track as they get closer to retirement, other options such as ownermanaged dairy cow grazing or selling silage or hay may be more suitable.

In the meantime they are enjoying a fantastic lifestyle with good returns. Staying on the land they love has allowed them to dabble in a range of other interests including growing watermelons and tomatoes, raising heritage chicken breeds and establishing a flock of exotic ducks on a pond near their home.

“We have enough money to pay all the bills and the freedom to take a long holiday each year without worrying about what’s happening on the farm” says Murray, adding “It’s great to wake up on Christmas morning and not have to get up and milk the cows”.