Friday, December 8, 2023

Data and science do the work

Neal Wallace
The topography of The Ranch in south Otago is steep to rolling hill country but it is managed and performs like an intensive breeding and finishing farm. Farm managers Maurice and Renee Judson tell Neal Wallace much of the performance comes down to decisions based on science and data.
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The impact of data on agriculture has been reckoned to be comparable to that of fertiliser.

The challenge is to decipher that volume of data about farm performance and parameters into a workable form and that is where south Otago farm managers Maurice and Renee Judson have an ace up their sleeve.

The farm is owned by Canterbury-born Lincoln University-trained lecturer and plant physiologist Dr David Ivory who has spent about 30 years working for the United Nations on sustainable agricultural programmes around the world and his wife Wichanee.

Ivory’s scientific background provides the analysis and interpretation of a suite of data generated from his Clydevale farm, which Judson turns into action.

“Everything we do has a scientific, data-based background,” Judson says.

“We feed David the data – weights, scanning rates, tailing and weaning results, the lot.

“In the 20 years he has owned the farm David has worked on the bones of the place – soil fertility, pasture species, genetics and farm infrastructure.”

Judson and Ivory talk weekly with the owner setting the policy and strategy, much of which is based on data.

“He is a spreadsheet guru.”

The Judsons manage 16,500 stock units on 1700ha (1525ha effective) above the Clutha and Waitahuna Rivers, of which 900ha can be cultivated.

They run 9800 Romney-Coopworth-Texel ewes, 3000 hoggets, 750 hinds, 620 weaners, 40 stags, 240 yearling Friesian-Hereford and Friesian bulls.

The business is 75% sheep, 20% deer and 5% cattle and Judson’s management is driven by returns per hectare.

“We push the stocking rate as hard as we can for this type of country. This may mean sacrificing per stock unit performance a little for greater per hectare returns overall.”

The scientific and data-driven management means the farm’s steep topography and scale does not preclude them from targeting performance normally associated with an intensive downland property.

Genetics, pasture and paddocks, which average 10ha, drive productivity.

Shelter is key on the steep to rolling hill country and Judson has planted a large amount of shelter belts.


They have three children, Lachlan, 15, Ben, 12, and Kate, 6.

Ivory lives in Thailand for eight months of the year and spends summer on the south Otago farm.

Judson says they have learnt much from him.

“David and Wichanee are very supportive employers who look at things from a very scientific approach, which has been great for me.

“I’ve learnt a lot from him, the power of recording and analysing data.

“He’s shown me how important it is for farmers in making decisions and the opportunity to make gains.”

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