Peter Squirrell’s New Zealand Adventure
Growing up on a small family farm in Suffolk, Peter and his family have diversified the operation to include a number of revenue streams. The largely arable enterprise grows cereals, OSR and sugar beet as well as running a horse livery yard, small bulk haulage business and more recently a traditionally reared, rare breed pork enterprise “Maypole Pork”. He also runs contract farms with two neighbors who have similar cropping and the addition of winter beans.
Three words to describe the trip?
Fun, welcoming, thought-provoking
If you were to make a New Year’s resolution, inspired by your trip to New Zealand, what would it be?
Don’t just continue doing what you’ve always done; keep looking for that new opportunity.
What was your impression of NZ farms?
This trip was really stimulating and will stay with me for the rest of my life; I am so pleased I took the time to scan a few spray cans.
We visited a diverse range of businesses; some of the best and the biggest, who controlled the whole process right from growing to processing, packing, and marketing and often transport too. Eastpack, the kiwi growing enterprise, was a highlight, partly because of the novelty of the product and the way the company had dedicated itself to one crop, with massive investment in cold storage, grading and packing lines.
The kiwi crop is labour intensive, needing training, pruning and thinning. Robotics for harvest are in development but hand picking is, for now, more reliable. Labour supply is an ongoing issue for a number of the businesses we saw and has been a problem for many of them, as it is here.
What was your impression of NZ as an agri-food exporting nation?
It was really apparent that New Zealand’s growers are far more focussed on the marketing of their produce than we are in this country. Businesses have grown to include marketing teams who go out worldwide to search for markets. They don’t just go to the nearest market either; they look for the best and then grow for that market. They try and grow their crops to comply with all the regulations that they can and therefore they are not limiting themselves as to which market they can access.
What did you learn about cereal growing in NZ?
There is no one way to grow cereals and the farms that we visited covered a broad spectrum of methods. However, what they did have in common was high inputs, particularly N. They also spent more on plant growth regulator programmes and on fungicides too. Their growing season is longer than ours and growers want their cereals clean all the way down the plant whereas we tend to concentrate on just keeping them clean at the top.
Will you change anything as a result of the trip?
We apply a fairly robust fungicide programme, however, if we don’t think it is necessary then we don’t put it on, or not at such a high rate but having seen the way New Zealanders do things perhaps this is false economy. The disease may not look like it is affecting the crop but maybe it is.
I am planning to discuss the possibilities of increasing certain inputs on our cereals with my agronomist. We are in an NVZ, so have more restrictions.
In New Zealand there seemed to be fewer regulations on inputs than we have on ours. The consensus was that more constraints are likely to come into force in the near future. The places we visited were very open about their businesses and were happy to talk about finances which surprised me. I don’t think a similar visit in the UK would get the same degree of open-ness with the figures.