Farmer Focus: Finances show benefits of mixed farming

Now the harvest is in the tin cans and autumn cultivations and drilling are complete we firmly change our attention to the livestock part of our business over the winter.

The Canterbury arable system is commonly referred to as a “mixed arable” farm and here at Valetta we have embraced that model.

We have a mixture of lighter and medium and heavy soils across this property. On our lighter ground we farm 1,000 Romney breeding ewes and run a kale, spring wheat or peas, grass seed, two-year pasture rotation.

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

Our medium to heavy soils sees a permanent rotation of one-third wheat,one-third grass seed and one-third pulses and vegetable seeds.

Our break between cereals and pulses/vegetables and vice versa is green feed oats and forage rapes.

The majority of our grass seed area receives autumn urea and is grown through until spring cultivations, giving us a huge opportunity to grow high-quality feed and effectively double crop the farm.

Ex-grass seed area is grazed until the frosts in May curtail growth and then we begin break fencing kale and oats in late May and during June, July and August when we would expect to have up to 8,000 sheep behind three wire fences on daily shifts.

Our aim is to feed to excess and continue to finish lambs that have been purchased in during autumn right throughout the winter and grow the remainder out on new grass seed crops, prior to closing in mid-spring.

This year, due to disappointing cereal prices and bleak sale prospects, we have invested in grain dispensers that ration out grain to the lambs as a supplement.

A fair battle of wills took place to train the lambs, but early weighing results are suggesting the growth rate increase on feeding a very modest amount of barley is very good and shows a better than expected feed conversion ratio. I should have more to report on this next month.

In June we do our previous season reconciliations and prepare our budgets for upcoming year. It is here that relevance of the mixed arable system is truly seen.

The past few years we have ridden a wave of strong cereal pricing and the livestock have been our laggard.

But now with cereals are acting as a sea anchor, fortunately forage and vegetable seed production and lamb finishing are performing well and maintaining our gross farm income.

So it is on with the gumboots and waterproofs and off to shift some break fences.

David Clark runs a 463ha fully irrigated mixed farm with his wife Jayne at Valetta, on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand’s south island. He grows 400ha of cereals, pulses, forage and vegetable seed crops, runs 1,000 Romney breeding ewes and finishes 8,000 lambs annually.   

Need a contractor?

Find one now