Taking diversification to the limit

18 June 2013

One Kiwi farming family’s innovative approach to diversification sees its tranquil pastures play host to a unique dirt bike event each year.

Dan and Brett Frew are working together to build a future for the farm they grew up on that goes beyond traditional sheep and beef farming.

In 2008 they created a unique motocross/BMX/mountain bike event, Farm Jam, which draws world-class riders and thousands of spectators every February.

The event takes place at Highfield, a 1,050ha property in central Southland that’s home to three generations of Frews.

The farm consists of river flats along the Otapiri Stream and rolling to steeper hill country with significant areas of retained tussock and native bush. On 922ha effective 6,200 Kelso composite ewes are wintered along with 2,200 hoggets, 80 breeding cows, 70 calves and about 50 trading cattle.

Dan, Brett and their older brother Kris grew up on Highfield after their parents Mervyn and Marie moved there in 1984. Mervyn and his brother John purchased the original Highfield block to complement the family farm at Otahuti. Mervyn and Marie bought John out and since then have added a neighbouring 323ha block and a 160ha finishing block six kilometres away.

“Apparently, Dad came up here and fell in love with the place,” explains Brett. “That love seems to have filtered down pretty effectively,” adds Dan.

The younger Frew brothers are undeniably motivated to keep Highfield in the family. Dan has a partner, Steph. Brett is married to Brazilian Leticia, they have a baby daughter Luiza.

Dan has been working at home on the farm full-time since 2005 and Brett came home three years ago. “It’s a stunning valley to live in,” says Brett. "You can’t live here and not be a farmer, not want to look after the land.”

The brothers share a passion for bikes – BMX, mountain and motorbikes. Both spent time travelling in New Zealand and overseas as professional riders so have contacts and international event experience. To combine their love of the land and of bikes seemed an obvious thing to do. “We’ve always been each other’s best riding buddies,” says Brett.

Dan and Brett acknowledge their father’s approach to farming this land. Central to the farm’s profitability is the productivity and health of their stock.

They place huge value on their undeveloped tussock country, containing mostly silver tussock. The shelter afforded during lambing is prized. This year they are aiming to stagger three lambings there between August and November.

From the farm’s Kelso ewes the brothers are screening out an elite flock to produce rams for their own use and conditions. Dan explains: “We know what the good ones are capable of. We want to make all of them the good ones.”

The Frews won the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award at this year’s Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards. The judges said: “They are a family that works together extremely well. Strong family relationships are the absolute foundation of everything good that is happening with the property and business.”

Judges’ comments

  • Two generations of pride and experience understanding the farm’s topography, strengths and weaknesses; strategic stocking and breeding selection
  • Excellent stock health, live weight targets and lambing (19kg carcass and 155 percent); high performing ewes preferentially treated
  • Outstanding preservation of habitat and biodiversity throughout progression of developing pastures and production
  • Willingness to share extremely beautiful farm; Farm Jam innovative diversification showcasing Southland farming to the world
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