Small seeds and collaboration

06.12.2018

By Colin Mountford-Smith

Murray and Margaret Turley run a large scale arable and vegetable operation in South and Mid Canterbury, with the home base being located near Temuka.

Turley Farm started as a 26ha business, it now spans 4,000ha and is one of New Zealand’s biggest cropping businesses growing potatoes, onions, wheat, barley, grass seed, clover for seed, peas, as well as specialising in hybrid carrots, radishes, beetroots and oilseed rape seeds. The farm also integrates sheep and beef cattle into its rotations.

The family have also been innovative in their collaboration. They are shareholders in a seed business (Seedlands), a flour mill (Farmers Mill), a grain store, a packing business (Southern Packers) and, very recently, an irrigation business.

The family has a 28% shareholding in a dairy business comprising of 59 farms and 50,000 milking cows.

The ‘small seeds’ are very lucrative to the business, but also very fickle to grow and harvest. The family and agronomist, Roger Wishaw, are having to learn to manage these seed crops by trial and error.

The seed crop is a costly business – pollination and irrigation are the biggest costs. Pollination is done by hiring in bee hives, coming in at NZ$220-250 per hive, totalling NZ$2,000/ha for the seed enterprise of NZ$250-400,000.

Despite the costs and the challenging management of this crop, the margins are high. However, in a bad year, the business may not earn anything from its seed business, hence why it’s not for the fainthearted!

Irrigation is commonplace on the Canterbury plains, including the irrigation of cereal crops. At Turley, they use around one inch per fortnight. Currently in New Zealand, there are no costs associated with irrigation water, but the farmers that we have met expect this to change going forward.

Hygiene on the farm is key, as a result, verges are kept trimmed and weeds are controlled, because seed and pollen contamination is bad news for growers.

The cereal enterprise is an important part of the rotation. Roger imports some varieties from the UK, including Crusoe, and still grows Claire. A key tool that New Zealand farms still have access to is burning stubbles. Many don’t like doing it, from a soil and environment perspective, but it is important for weed and slug control.

Fixed costs of wheat production are around NZ$2,000. Turley yields around 10-14t/ha, the farm is budgeting NZ$400/t when it’s sold. Irrigation can change the dynamics very quickly, adding NZ$1,000 in costs, and can be vital, particularly if the temperatures hit 27-28°C, when the wheat crop is vulnerable to switching off.

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