Chris Leslie’s New Zealand Adventure


Chris has been involved in farm management for the past decade, growing cereals, peas, oil seeds, carrots and milling oats. He is director of Scottish Borders Produce and a graduate of the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Program.

We asked him about his recent trip to New Zealand with BASF…

What was your impression of NZ farms? 

New Zealand farmers’ ability to just get the job done – they have so much focus.

The bit that got me though, was how few hoops they have to jump through. It allows them to just get on with things.

They also have some interesting government policies in place. For example, all milk produced must be delivered to the government.

They also think about closed loop systems well – there was a mixed farmer who was feeding his waste veg to his dairy cows. He saw the cows like individual anaerobic digesters. Then he had a really good marketing arm which was selling the veg and dairy products to buyers in China – they actually had people employed in China.

People also seemed innovative. We saw one farmer on the South Island who was trialing fungicide and nitrate applications as if he was an agronomist.

They are also very collaborative and relaxed. Perhaps it is the weather which encourages people out together and also means they can plan more.

What surprised you? 

The lack of technology – it’s not there yet in the way we have in the UK. We’re probably spoilt here for manufacturers, but in NZ they have to import everything.

We saw a farmer who did not want to pay for a drill, so he was managing his fixed costs by broadcasting his winter wheat using a spreader. I would like to try this on a decent field, and not as a last resort.

Budgeting seems to be more in their heads and less detailed than us and their systems are simple. Perhaps they don’t have to analyse as much because of the good weather and soils – one farmer was budgeting based on getting 13t/ha and getting 15t/ ha instead.

It was interesting to learn that they don’t pass farms on there. Children have to buy off their parents.

What was your impression of NZ as an agri-food exporting nation?

The whole system is designed around exports, since the home population is really small. There is a big reliance on Maoris and Asians for labour, but a lot of the farm managers in veg are Brits. So they are also importing their expertise.

They had worked out that they really needed to look after their labour well. One farmer – growing squash for Asian markets – had noticed that staff turn-over was huge. So he changed working hours from an almost 24-hour operation, to a 6-day week, working 9-5pm.

The business also started supplying a hot meal a day. As a result, they had much more secure staff with a longer tenure.

What did you learn about cereal growing in NZ?

I’d like to try using growth regulators earlier and trialing a lower seed rate.

I’d also like to look at plant nutrition. The major thing we saw was a farmer with a nine-year rotation, which included grass.

What did you think of BASF’s new cereal fungicide in trial for Revysol®?

It’s pretty bloody impressive. It’s old chemistry in a different format. They were a bit vague on rates used, but visually it works. Can they get it into the UK? Good question – it will be interesting to see.

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