Special Hyundai Country Calendar Episode 4
Country Calendar Special - Episode 4, screening 3 November at 7.30pm on TV ONE:
The fourth in a special series of 10 one-hour programmes in which we revisit some of our favourite recent stories.
In this episode we get cups-on with three dairy farmers.
Moera O'Leary holds on to her 65 hectare Northland farm with grit and conviction and urges other dairy farmers to do the same.
Her land in has been occupied by her whanau since pre-European times and she wants to ensure it remains in her family forever.
She lives in a run-down house with few luxuries rather than choosing to borrow and put her land at risk. As a result, Moera has no mortgages on her three small properties at Poroti near Whangarei.
She has strong views about some dairy farmers who, she says, borrow too much on their land. "They build fancy houses and milking sheds and over-capitalise."
In the end, she says, many farmers find themselves forced to sell their farms at inflated prices to overseas buyers. "New Zealanders are becoming serfs in their own country because they don't own their piece of dirt."
Moera milks 90 Jersey cows, once a day, and grazes Jersey replacements and weaners.
In the early 1980s she left her husband in Auckland and came home with her six children to run the farm. Now Moera has turned 60 and still looks after her elderly mother and nine-year-old grandsons Zion and Taynin. It's important to her that whanau can always return home to the land where they belong.
Moera is selective about spending on consumer goods and she's not prepared to buy them 'on tick'. For instance, she says, every person in a household doesn't need to have a car, but that's the way New Zealand is heading.
She doesn't have a landline or computer. All her farm data is recorded by hand in a little yellow diary and her main communication is by cell-phone and post.
Moera's fond of her Jersey cows, knows many of them by name and enjoys the freedom of running a dairy farm on her own. She's unconcerned about any sacrifices she makes to keep the land debt-free.
"I'll milk cows till I drop. It's good for me and I want to sit tight and hang on to this place for my grandchildren."
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."
Life in Balance
Country Calendar captured a special moment when a Bay of Plenty dairy farmer proposed marriage on camera.
Wayne Stuart invited friends and family to the home he shares with long-term partner Anna Gedson, telling everyone he was staging a social function to be part of the TV programme. Then, as the camera rolled, he popped the question.
The couple have been together for 14 years and have three children, but had never formally tied the knot.
Along with the rest of the guests, the Country Calendar crew nervously held their breath as they waited for Anna's answer - which is revealed during the programme.
Wayne and Anna moved back to the family farm east of Opotiki eight years ago in search of a better lifestyle for their children Leo, Ruby and Toa, now aged between ten and four.
They decided to seek organic certification about three years ago, but as soon as they started the conversion process, the weather dealt them some serious blows. Droughts and floods had a dramatic effect on grass growth and they were forced to reduce cow numbers, with a resulting drop in milk production.
The situation was compounded when Wayne had difficulty finding reasonably priced organic supplements to feed the cows.
He says what would have been small problems under a conventional system became much bigger because of the need to follow the rules for organic farming.
One example is a rule that prevents any tanalised timber from being brought onto the farm - something which Wayne says turned simple fence repairs into a major challenge. He wasn't even allowed to pull out an existing post and re-use it somewhere else.
Wayne says he struggled to see how such rules made any difference to the quality of his milk.
The stress started to take a toll on the family and Wayne says everyone was relieved when the decision was made to pull out of the organic programme.
But, rather than returning to conventional farming, Wayne and Anna are following a middle way which they say gives them the best of both worlds.
Wayne still uses homeopathic remedies for his cows, with antibiotics a last resort, and he puts fish and seaweed based sprays on his pasture. He's also dedicated to fixing carbon back into his soils and reducing the use of fertilisers like urea.
Anna is an artist as well as a dairy farmer and her works, inspired by her Maori ancestry, are sold at galleries around the country. She creates a wide range of pieces, from tiny flax ketes to large works in woven metal. Recently she made gifts for VIPs at the Rugby World Cup and she receives many corporate commissions.
They own their property with Wayne's father Mike. It includes 150 hectares of hilly and low-lying country and the family leases additional land for grazing.
To contact Anna and Wayne, email email@example.com
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