Thursday, April 25, 2024

Farm’s philosophy makes for a resilient business

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Soil health key to sustainable irrigation for Hawke’s Bay farmers.
Simon and Lou White with their children. Simon says their focus is on future-proofing their farm for another generational transition. Photo: Kate Taylor
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In the heart of Hawke’s Bay, Simon and Lou White have built a diverse arable cropping operation with soil health at its core. Their farming philosophy has made their business resilient to the region’s challenging weather patterns.

The White’s and their three children farm a mix of arable cropping and sheep and beef finishing across the 1100-hectare property, including a lease property, which has been in their family for three generations.

Simon says their focus is on future-proofing their farm for another generational transition by making sure they have the most efficient irrigation systems that work environmentally, economically and socially.

“We use four pivots with variable rate irrigation technology. We have been using this system to isolate blocks based on our farm’s soil types and the seasonal crops we have in the ground, to get the best out of both our irrigation and our farm,” Simon said.

“We have been looking at how isolating different zones impacts on how much water we are using and making sure we cut out laneways, wetlands and drains in areas that don’t need to be irrigated. We are using the resource as sustainably as possible.”

Some water for the irrigators is drawn from two bores, but the tight shale soils mean harvesting the water is a slow process. 

“This efficiency and the cost of gun irrigation prompted us to switch to a pivot system,” he said. “We harvest most of our water during the winter from excess flood water and store it in four large irrigation dams for summer application.

“We’re not lying in a plentiful aquifer with an abundance of water, so we have had to think hard about how we secure our water resource for future generations and ensure the survival of our family business.”

Zimmatic’s Precision VRI system has allowed them more precise irrigation, putting nutrients exactly where their plants need it. This has saved time and cost, and had a positive environmental impact.

Soil health drives everything the Whites do on their farm. In a region that is known for its long, hot dry summers, frosty cool winters and early, moist, warm springs, Simon says they maximise the climate by taking opportunities on the fringes of the irrigation season.

“We stagger our planting of different crops so the demand for irrigation is spread across a five-month planting programme. We also match our crops to the soil types on our farm. It means we can achieve more diversity in our crops, and our risk is spread across the seasons,” he said.

Crops grown include processed vegetables for McCain, squash for the Japanese market, milling and feed wheat, malting and feed barley, grass seed for seed production. They also produce five vegetable seed crops for South Pacific Seeds (SPS). They finish prime lamb through winter months and beef all year round, and recently added hemp to their operation. 

Simon constantly monitors his soil moisture levels with probes and an online app and regularly watches the weather forecast. He also uses grid nutrient soil sampling to gauge and track soil nutrient levels.

“Our aim is to get the nutrients cycling in the soil. Irrigation is vital to keeping the soil moist and plants to transpire less, putting energy into growing a healthy plant,” he said.

“Our soil health is the key to how sustainable our operation will be for generations to come.”

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