Richard Cockcroft’s New Zealand Adventure


Richard farms 2,000 acres with his father and brother in Northumberland. The mixed enterprise includes a pedigree herd of Shorthorn beef cattle and a flock of NZ Romney and Highlander sheep. The family grows milling and feed wheat, winter and spring oats, winter barley, spring malting barley, vining peas and OSR.

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

What impressed you about NZ farms?

All the farmers are making the most of the markets near them – China, Japan and Indonesia.

They are also maximising their gross margins, are open about figures and seem to have lower fixed costs for their machinery because they run them for longer.

They are getting bigger crop yields than us in the UK – mostly this seems to be due to their wetter and warmer climate and their volcanic soils.

I was really impressed by how they work together too – around Canterbury we saw a NZ$130m irrigation project that a large group of farmers had pitched money into. They realised they were getting 6-7m of rainfall in the west and so were installing reservoirs in the Canterbury Plains.

Another example was a pack house which vegetable growers had invested in together. And we also heard of an oil-pressing plant that a group of oilseed rape farmers had bought off the government – they were now in charge of the whole of their supply chain.

We could definitely learn from how NZ farmers work together, particularly for investments.

They also face similar labour problems to the UK – we rely on Eastern Europeans and they rely on Fijians and people from other South Pacific islands. NZ farmers will pay for flight tickets for workers, give them accommodation and look after them because they can get so much more work out of them than local people.

But the NZ government is thinking of raising the minimum wage, so farmers are looking at mechanisation for fruit picking.

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

It was impressive. NZ grows around 80% of the world’s carrot seed and a large amount of rye grass seed too.

We also saw kiwi, apple, vegetable and dairy sectors – all were exporting to South East Asian markets, which all seemed to be growing.

They were learning too from this – they found that one country was falsely claiming they had rot in their fruit shipments. So the Kiwis put a quality control person on the ship to solve the problem.

A lot of farmers seem to have control over their whole supply chain, including export in some cases, which means they have to learn how to negotiate directly with customers.

What did you learn about cereal growing in NZ?

They don’t have a huge area of cereal land on a world scale, but the land that they do have is very fertile. They also have the climate to achieve the best yields in the world, and they have a much longer grain-filling period.

Also their domestic cereal markets are quite strong and not affected by the world grain market as much ours in the UK.

There is definitely potential for us to increase our yields though. A lot of the farmers we saw were budgeting on 14t/ha yields. I think there are some scenarios where we could push our crops more – maybe with more nitrogen and fungicide, and lower seed rates.

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

It looked very impressive, particularly on Ramularia in barley and Septoria in wheat, which was very evident in a high disease pressure season after a very wet Spring in NZ. We’ll be looking to use it when it is licensed in the UK.

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