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Hyundai Country Calendar


Episode 22: Southern Soil

August 6 at on TV ONE:

'Southern Soil'

When the dirty dairying controversy struck in the early 2000s, it was a body blow to Southland farmers Vaughan and Megan Templeton.

The couple had recently converted their 425 hectare farm near Riverton from sheep to dairy cows and were working hard to be environmentally responsible.

"We'd put water troughs in every paddock and fenced off all our waterways," says Vaughan. "It was a big, expensive job, so to then be part of an industry accused of being the great polluter was really hard to take."

Three generations of Vaughan's family have farmed on the Otaitai flats but they've all done something different on the land.

Vaughan's grandfather and father were both flax millers. In its hey-day, flax was one of New Zealand's biggest export earners. The dried fibre was used to make ropes, wool packs and baling twine.

Des Templeton gave up flax milling in 1972 when the industry could no longer compete with cheaper imports but he re-opened his mill a few years back as a museum. Till recently, he was running the mill for tourists and selling the fibre to artists and crafts people.

Sadly, Des passed away soon after Country Calendar visited the flax mill, but the enterprise will continue with Vaughan taking over as host.

Vaughan's learned a lot about flax milling over the years, but it was sheep farming that paid the bills when he was first in charge of the family land. He stuck with that for 15 years but needed a new challenge.

"I'm not the world's most patient man - and sheep do try your patience," says Vaughan.

Converting to dairying was a big decision for the couple, partly because of the cost involved.

"I remember saying to Megan if we do go dairy farming we'll never be able to pay off the debt - we'll have to live with putting a zero on our interest bill," he says. "And we didn't actually lose sleep over it and that was good. You have to be able to make that call - and we could."

Looking after the fragile soils on Vaughan's farm was another consideration.  His property runs down to the beach and the soils are all sand-based with varying amounts of topsoil.

But one of the biggest problems the couple faced was not knowing much about dairy farming. They hired Warren Calder as manager and it's been a successful partnership.

"One of the most important things Warren taught us was how to manage the animals," says Vaughan. "Warren loves animals. He's always treated my herd as if it was his own and he knows every cow individually. I can say any number and he'll be able to tell me all about her."

Megan trained as a nurse but, when times got tough on the farm, she gave up her job and became the farm worker. She loves her dairy cows and is often spotted around the farm checking on a herd.

She and Vaughan now run the farm in partnership and she says they complement each other well.

"He loves development and I love the stock. We approach things from opposite perspectives - he's got the logical right brain thinking and I am the creative one."

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Jeff Aldridge

Field sound
John Patrick

Offline editor
Brent Whitwell

Online editor
Alex Wright

Sound mixer
Ian Leslie

Vivienne Jeffs

Network executive
Jude Callen

Consultant producer
Frank Torley

Associate producer
Dan Henry

Production manager
Robyn Best

Katherine Edmond

Julian O'Brien