With the development of farms seven and eight well underway at Te Whenua Hou at Eyrewell in North Canterbury, Ngai Tahu Farming is on track to complete its 20-farm development ahead of schedule.
Ngai Tahu Farming Development Manager Glen Clayton says progress accelerated after the devastating high winds of 2013 felled approx. 1,000 hectares of Eyrewell Forest
“This facilitated Matariki’s (the forestry company) desire to sell their forestry right to Ngāi Tahu Farming and enable a more aggressive harvest plan so all trees could be off the land by 2019. That meant that, from mid-2014, we knew we had to speed up our development plans,” he says.
“With just three farms left to development after Christmas this year, the entire project will be completed in half the time we originally thought.”
The project has “ramped-up” it’s on-the-ground capability and Ngai Tahu Farming manages around 50 different contractors who work across land clearing, farm infrastructure development and house building.
Clayton says that now, well into the project, development processes have been well honed.
“After the first five or six farms, we focussed on what we could improve and we’ve been refining our development processes every year since. There were definitely a few hurdles to overcome in the first two or three years but now we’ve got it down to a relatively seamless exercise,” he says.
Key to development success has been the hiring of project managers Ben Giesen (Te Whenua Hou) Rhys Narbey (Balmoral Forest) and Noel Roberts (who runs the Ngāi Tahu Farming contracting team)
“We all started from scratch and it’s been a steep learning curve but having Ben, Rhys and Noel on board has been key to steady progress,” says Clayton.
The development team has been working on farms 7 and 8 since March. As the forestry company clears the land of trees, the development team moves in to pop the stumps, clear the land and burn of forest debris. One of the biggest challenges is around the burn-off and the fact that fire risk dictates this should happen between (usually) April and November.
Once the ground has been levelled, infrastructure development begins, with the construction of roads, dairy sheds (where applicable), fencing, irrigation, effluent systems, farm sheds and housing for new families. Large scale new irrigation ponds are also key and nine large motor-scrapers are currently creating the ponds on the two new farms.
As part of the Ngāi Tahu Farming Landscape and Biodiversity Plan, shelter belts, reserves and ecological planting continues into newly developed areas.
“We’ve refined things like ground preparation as we’ve gone along,” says Clayton.
“Our purchase of a giant stick rake for instance, has revolutionised our processes and we’re now spending more time levelling the land. Ngai Tahu Farming has also established its own contracting team, which has given us a lot more freedom as we’ve moved forward.”
Clayton says they have the flexibility to develop new farms as either dairy farms or grazing units.
“It’s a two-step process. We are currently developing these two as grazing units and with irrigation installed we hope to have them at the early-water-on stage by Christmas; and we could have stock on them within four to six weeks after that.
“But if we choose to add new dairy units, we only have to add the dairying infrastructure.”
Two further farms will be developed in 2017 and one in 2018, completing the 20-farm project. This currently includes seven working dairy farms and ten grazing units. A further six dairy sheds are due to be added between 2017 and 2019; and by the time all twenty farms are operating, it is estimated that more than one hundred new people will have been employed and be living full-time at Te Whenua Hou.