Reaping rewards from environmental management
Beef and lamb with a side of carbon credits?
The 247ha Nisbett Taumata Estate near Waipukarau in the Hawke's Bay is in the enviable position of being able to trade carbon thanks to a long-term planting programme that has made the sheep and beef farm not just carbon neutral – but carbon positive.
Steve Treseder has been managing the hill country farm for the Nisbett family for 30 years and began planting poplars and willow poles to help stabilise the farm's clay soils 29 years ago.
Apart from drought years, he has planted 300 of these trees every year and while he has appreciated the soil stabilisation and shade benefits of the willows and poplars, he never realised the carbon storage benefits until a recent field day on the farm.
He admits to being as surprised as anybody about the outcomes of the analysis and says other farmers are probably sitting on a lot of carbon credits they don't know about.
But the pole-planting is just a portion of the extensive native planting and environmental enhancement Steve has been carrying out over the years.
A recent initiative to improve and plant around dams and install a water reticulation system was instrumental to the business winning the Waterforce Water Management Award at this year's East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Steve explains that there are no natural water sources on the farm, so they rely on a number of dams to collect water for stock. They are now undergoing a process of draining, cleaning, fencing and planting these dams and using a gravity-fed pipe system to draw water from them to feed troughs.
He says they have found they really need to drain the dams and use a digger to clean them out before starting again. The native riparian plants – more than 4000 of them so far – filters the water and prevents future silt build-ups and as no stock will have access to the dams, the water quality has been greatly enhanced.
Steve has used local experts to advise him about what species to plant and the owners and their families have helped with the planting.
Another planting initiative has been two to three-metre-wide native shelterbelts on the farm's easier country. These shelterbelts have become increasingly important as the number of triplets their 1030 Highlander ewes produce increases.
These ewes are lambing between 150% and 178% so shelter is essential with so many multiple lambs being born.
Lambing starts in September reflecting the pasture growth curve on the farm and there is a relatively small window of opportunity to maximise lamb growth rates before the east coast summer dry kicks in.
Steve says while they aim to get as many lambs finished and away before Christmas, he will quite happily sell lambs store, particularly given store lamb prices in recent years.
He would rather sell store lambs than try to finish lambs at the expense of ewe condition although they are planting chicory and plantain with clover to help lift lamb growth rates over spring and summer.
One of the idiosyncrasies of their business is their ewe replacement policy.
All ewe lambs born on the farm are sent off to the Wairarapa to grow out and lamb as hoggets before returning home as well-grown (around 66kg) two-tooths. The grazier is paid on a liveweight gain basis and keeps the lambs from the hoggets, but Steve receives two-tooths that are well set-up for future reproductive performance.
"It does cost us but we have good sheep coming back into the flock and having that class of stock off the place means we can put that feed into our ewes or bulls," he says.
Farmax analysis has consistently shown that this policy is advantageous to their farm business.
Complementing the sheep operation are 130 beef bulls comprising 80 two-year and 50 R1 bulls.
The two-year old bulls are a flexible class of stock in that they can be used to clean up pastures for the sheep and are able to be sold if the climate turns against them.
Steve says they used to grow out bulls and sell them before their second winter but this put a lot of pressure on the system as these bulls had to be growing well all year round.
Now they buy R1 bulls in summer or autumn and grow them out on grass over two winters.
Steve says the older bulls tend to be more elastic in that they can be maintained when feed supplies are tight and will have good compensatory growth rates when feed is plentiful.
The farm has an all-grass wintering system which takes advantage of the pasture growth they do get over winter. Steve says the farm's clay soils are unsuitable for winter-feed crops as they get too wet and pug easily.
Steve has pulled ewe numbers back recently from more than 1100 and increased bull numbers slightly. This is because they used to run out of room when set-stocking the ewes at lambing and this was always at the expense of the bulls. He is now aiming to give the ewes more room at lambing (7/ha) while giving the bulls good quality spring feed, maximising production from both stock classes.
For Steve, it's about maximising the productivity of their business using the resources they have rather than looking to expand.
"You don't have to be huge to be successful."
(Photo Credit: Kate Taylor)