Tuesday, April 23, 2024

They’re committed to their land

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A Central Hawke’s Bay family farm is combining bulls and Wagyu steers to make the most of its climate and the most of its family asset. They not only know what they are doing on-farm but also know the supply chain from end to end so can tick all the boxes expected of them. Kate Taylor reports.
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Growing quality cattle on an all grass and homegrown fodder system is all that’s needed to keep James Greer happy in his work. 

“Farming is in our blood. Every day is different and every day is a challenge. We love it.”

James and Katherine Greer and James’ parents Jerry and Diana farm 830ha at Argyll east, west of Waipawa.

James returned to the family farm where he grew up in 2007 after studying farm management at Lincoln University. Katherine joined the family about eight years ago, about the same time the Greers became shareholders in First Light, which is based in Hawke’s Bay, and bought their first 20 or so Wagyu cattle.

Neither James or his father are interested in breeding cattle but run a quality finishing operation with a mixture of bull beef and the prime Wagyu.

“They are rotated in a similar fashion although the Wagyu don’t dig holes and they’re a lot easier to shift,” Jerry says.

“We can also run a higher stocking rate of Wagyu per hectare because the steers don’t eat as much as the bulls,” James adds.

Most of the stock arrives on the farm as spring- or autumn-born calves – 200 of each of both Friesian bulls and Wagyu. Most of the Wagyu calves are from Waikato rearers with some from Canterbury for the first time this year. 

They want to increase the number of autumn-born Wagyu calves to about 75% to suit the farm’s climate.

“We were 100% spring calves but they just don’t fit into the system as well. So now we’re moving to a mostly autumn-born system. We can get them started and up to speed earlier. They struggle if they’re 90-100kg going into summer but the autumn-borns will be 200-230kg by the end of the year and they handle the dry a lot better. The change also means we can process them at the peak of the market – we hit the premium winter finishing market, which attracts top dollar.”

The business, trading as The Brow Farms, is made up of three separate blocks run in conjunction with each other on a seasonal basis. 

“Parts of the two bottom farms are more summer safe than up here,” James says from their home high on Range Road overlooking the other farms and out to the Ruahine Range. 


“We are being given the opportunity to add value and expertise to previous generations’ hard work. 

“We’d love to try to continue the farming gene and look after our assets for further generations.”

James is the third generation on the farm. 

Jerry started his working life in a family motor business but then took up farming with Diana when their family was young. That young family has now delivered another generation with in-laws and grandchildren and while they still farm together, Jerry, who has just been elected to the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council, and Diana have stepped back to give James and Katherine more control.

Daughter Charlotte and son-in-law Russell Heald manage and have a vested interest in the family’s dairy farm business at Norsewood – The Brow Dairies. The 170ha effective dairy farm is run in conjunction with a 128ha run-off, Fenwick, and is in its first year of conversion to an organic system.

Younger daughter Annabelle and son-in-law Malcolm Campbell live on the home farm with Malcolm working full time for The Brow Farms. Younger son Angus is a diesel mechanic operating heavy machinery for Awakere Drainage in Hastings. 

The extended family has been through several farm succession planning sessions. They have to make it workable, especially with four children, Jerry says. Facilitated family meetings helped each of them gain an understanding of the expectations and dreams of the others, including the definitive statement that none of them wanted to sell any land. 

Jerry and Diana are proud of their family’s work ethos and the fact they all get on so well. 

“So many families don’t,” Jerry says. 

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