Monday, April 22, 2024

Sharing open and honest farming

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Rangitikei sheep and beef farmer William Morrison has connected his hill-country farm to the world through social media with images of the breathtaking property a hit on Twitter. By looking to the future he’s building on his family’s 150 years on the land, as Bryan Gibson found.
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Atop one of the majestic peaks on Mangara Station William Morrison snaps a picture on his smart phone and sends it out to the world on Twitter.

Like many of his posts, it will be liked and retweeted by people around the globe.

“It never ceases to amaze me how much positive interaction I get from people all around the world and in all walks of life,” Morrison says.

“And that’s incredibly powerful and I think it’s something as Kiwi farmers that we do take for granted and can maybe leverage and use a bit more in the future.”

Being the sixth generation of the family to farm in the region, Morrison and his brother Richard, along with father John and cousin Graham, have built up their farming operation from the original home farm on the flats to include Mangara. Bought in 2013, the 994ha hill country property brings their breeding and finishing operation to 1394ha.

In the hills Morrison looks after the breeding stock with farm manager Daniel Clayton.

 When he’s not showcasing the farm to the world through his phone Morrison is often away from the farm in his role as national farmer council chairman with Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

“That’s why Daniel’s so important and why I’m the shepherd here now,” he says.

Morrison Farming has grown in land size, staff and scale with the acquisition of Mangara, something Morrison says was important for the family business to prosper.

“You always look at your business model and the members of your family and you’ve just got to figure out what’s economically viable for now and for the future. It always helps to have a bit of scale and independence within a family business.”

Mangara has provided that scale but it has been hard work to develop the block, which has no mains power supply, and the work isn’t finished.

The first task was to build a bridge to gain access to the whole property.

“Then you think fencing and fertiliser but you need water to do all of those things so we put in a water reticulation scheme. We’re still building that as we continue to do the development.” 

A two-stage pumping system draws water from beneath a stream bed. It is pumped up to storage tanks. A diesel generator then pumps the water to four more tanks for gravity feeding around the farm.

Fencing’s also been a priority with the original 22 paddocks being turned into 44 at a rate of about 3-4km a year.

“It’s a battle because you spend a whole lot of money buying a place and then you need to spend more to make the place work.”

It hasn’t been without obstacles, either. A storm in 2015 left them unable to access parts of the farm.

“It was a big wake-up call.

“We probably lost about half of our paddocks. They became not stockproof and we couldn’t get around half of the farm for a month until it dried out and we could get a digger in,” Clayton says

“There was a lot of slipping.”

Yet Morrison credits Clayton with getting stuck in and getting the farm back on track.

“It was tough,” Morrison says. 

“Daniel said we’ve just got to fix this so he started the next day just plodding through the mud carrying posts and netting and waratahs and wire and bits and pieces and you just start plugging up holes. 

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

“And we got on top of it. We had a functioning farm in two months and you never look back.”

Water is one thing but a lack of it is something else again and last spring is remembered as the one that passed them by.

“We didn’t get spring. What that looked like is that we got 38mm of rain. So there’s no massive damage, it’s not spectacular like a flood but we’re just coming out of it now and doing our monitoring and for the last 12 months we grew 20% less feed than any other year. 

“So if you think about our raw resource that you’ve got to work with, that’s what’s really been challenging. 

“It’s an unspectacular, quiet battle that you have.”

But through these battles the Morrisons have stuck to their plan to use best-practice farming methods and superior genetics to create a profitable farming business.

It’s scenes like these that make William Morrison’s social media posts such so popular. Photo: William Morrison

Morrison and the team use Farmax tools to help inform their decisions, CashManager make sure every dollar is where it should be and various other apps and online tools to help things tick along.

These tools are helping to build a farming business Morrison hopes will deliver not only profit but a sustainable and environmentally-sound operation that won’t compromise future generations.

As for Twitter, the posts have become a little less frequent in the past year or so. 

Industry governance and his recent marriage to farm consultant and Morrison farming director Erica van Reenen has seen him off the farm a couple of days a week.

Van Reenen runs the Feilding office of Agfirst and has been influential in identifying areas of MangaRa that are suitable for planting and wetlands.

Morrison says sustainability is important economically, environmentally and socially.

“That means having a healthy farm and healthy landscapes. 

“It means having a business model that is positive and generating growth for future generations to be able to be successful. 

“And it means having people, family members and staff and all the service people that are involved in our farming business enjoying their involvement and being positive about the opportunities for the days, weeks and years to come.”

As for the future, Morrison sees both challenges and opportunities for the sheep and beef sector.

“I think the best strategy to combat future issues is just to continue to improve your farming system in a way that is open and transparent, which just means being really honest with the people around you and with the markets and actually working hard to have good-quality science that validates what it is you’re doing.

“And then share that with everyone around the world and use things such as social media and be able to say ‘Hey, this is the real story’.”

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