Monday, April 22, 2024

The environment comes first

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Running a big station with 3500 owners is a big challenge. But Parengarega Station’s new farm manager Kathryne Easton is adding to the task, with her vision of starting with the environment then working back to the farm with her best-use-of-land philosophy at the same time as coping with pest, pasture and weather issues. She told Andrew Stewart her environmental and biosecurity plans include not just the farm but the entire Far North.
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It’s fair to say many Kiwis forget how far the country stretches north past Auckland. 

The reality is they can travel another six hours before reaching the tip of New Zealand at Cape Reinga and the further north they go the more diverse and challenging the land becomes. 

Just half an hour south of the Cape lies Parengarenga Station, a diverse, nearly 6000-hectare operation that stretches between both coasts of the country. 

Northland is a deeply tribal region with strong links to the whenua and Parengarenga Station is no different. 

This mainly sheep and beef farm is part of the larger corporation of the same name that also owns some 11,000 hectares of forestry, has an extensive manuka planting programme and has strong interest from its 3500 shareholders. 

Farm manager Kathryne Easton started her role just six months ago but is already putting her stamp on this significant property. 

Though born and bred on a farm, Easton studied agriculture at university before working overseas in various farming roles. When she returned to New Zealand she spent most of her career working as a rural professional for the fertiliser industry, core agricultural producers, environmental agencies and consultants. 

She had worked with Parengarenga Station as an adviser but admits she was still surprised when she was approached to apply for the manager’s job. She also runs her own small landholding of 160 hectares near Maungatapere but knew she would never own a farm anywhere close to the scale of Parengarenga. 

So, she decided to throw caution to the never-ending Northland wind and loves her new life on the station. 

One of the big attractions was the chance to improve all aspects of the station’s performance. She could see the potential. 

Now she has changed from consultant to game player, as she puts it, the environment is a key focus. 

“I just see there’s so much potential here to be achieved. There’s the opportunity to subdivide paddocks down, get better control of pastures, to grow better quality and more quantity of pasture and be able to actually run a high stocking rate. 

Development work on the station is clearly visible and has been great advertising to show the progress being made. Despite a dedicated plan to plant 80,000 to 100,000 manuka stems a year, Easton would also like to see a plan to plant more natives. She believes with careful planning and co-operation with other like-minded landowners they can build an environment in the Far North that will not only rekindle the bird life but provide a biosecurity corridor to encourage greater biodiversity. 

Her new role means she has had little time to stop and really enjoy her new surroundings to the full. 

But Easton grew up on a farm from day one and admits she has always loved farming and the outdoors. 

“You’ve got it in your bones really and you either love it or you hate it. And I really love it. There’s nothing better than being out on the farm with the animals and being able to see an achievement or an outcome which is good for everyone.”

Turning trash into treasure

Parengarenga Incorporation is not just focused on producing quality sheep and beef. 

General manager Jon Brough, assisted by farm manager Kathryne Easton and others, has wide-reaching visions of what the future holds to make the best use of the land. 

One initiative they are investigating is the use of a carboniser machine to turn forestry waste into charcoal, BioChar. 

They have researched what is happening in Australia with the technology where the product produced can be used to offset carbon emissions. 

All going well, Parengarenga would like to see the same results on this side of the Tasman. 

The machine is fed with slash and waste from a forestry skid site, which is then turned into something far more useful. 

“Basically, it’s a cooking process where we load it to a certain temperature and then hold it at that temperature till it pyrolyses and produces a carbon product. From there we’re going to look at options around utilising the carbon either by applying it to the pasture or using it as an animal feed in terms of an animal lick,” Easton said. 

She suggests they will look at adding molasses or something similar to encourage stock to eat it and by offering the stock access to the mix they could reduce the need for drenching. 

The carboniser they are trying is a small machine but if successful they will look at bigger machines that could also provide usable energy to power houses. 

For environmentally focused Easton the project fits well within her mantra and the incorporation’s values of doing the right thing by the soil. 

“You’ve grown a tree, you’ve got a waste product. We turn that waste product into a valuable product, add it back to our pasture and the cycle continues. The land becomes more effective on the next forestry rotation as well so you live with a minimal amount of trash. 

“So, it’s a really nice cyclic evaluation of a product that would otherwise just been waste. 

“We see this project as an exploration into our future as we analyse our own capability to head towards a carbon-neutral, methane-reduced future. This is a unique part of the country with a Maori incorporation on a journey with their whenua with aspirations to make a difference in the national and international agricultural market arena.”

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