Gaining input from farmers was critical to the development of the Hill Country Futures Partnership programme, and Gisborne farmers Henry and Sofie Gaddum were happy to help.
The couple, who farm sheep, beef and deer at Kotare Station at Matawai, acted as connectors to draw together a focus group to support work on the programme’s design.
The $8.1m Hill Country Futures Partnership programme is co-funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, PGG Wrightson Seeds and Seed Force New Zealand.
It is focused on future proofing the profitability, sustainability and wellbeing of New Zealand’s hill country farmers, their farm systems, the environment and rural communities.
Ange McFetridge, Design and Capability Lead for B+LNZ, said the support of Henry, Sofie and their farmer group had been invaluable.
“We wanted to interview a group who were representative of people living in hill country, to help us to future proof our farmers. We were given Henry and Sofie’s names and it was so good to get them on board.
“They put out a request and brought a group of hill country farmers together. We held a face-to-face meeting with them and got a tremendous amount of insights about their aspirations for their farms and hill country farming for the future and also their frustrations.
“The great thing is they have also continued together as a farmer group. They are very free and frank with one another; they are all peers who have ‘come home to farm’, they know about working through succession and the stewardship role they have and really care about what they are doing for future generations.”
Ange and the Nature Positive team then held a second meeting with the group to test plans for the programme.
“By then, the group’s numbers had grown too. We wanted to show them what we had done with their insights and to test some of the conceptual work and deliverables to gain their feedback on the utility of that. It was important to us to validate that we were on the right track and ensure hill country farmers had an active voice in what we were doing.”
Henry said it was great to be part of a partnership that has a clear focus and is forward thinking about building resilience into the future of farming.
“We had the initial meeting at one of the farm homesteads, answering questions B+LNZ had put together for us. We then had another catch up to see what results and feedback they had formed and went through some new ideas and proposals they had to discuss with us.
“It is very good to catch up as a group and share what is happening on-farm. We are lucky to have strong farming communities in the Gisborne region, and initiatives like this help strengthen these networks of support that are vital to the people in these rural areas.”
Henry and Sofie see the focus on future proofing the industry as critical if future generations are to farm hill country in New Zealand.
Having gained a Diploma in Agriculture and Farm Management at Lincoln, Henry worked at several other local hill country farms before he and Sofie began farming at his family’s third generation farm in 2020.
Kotare is 767ha total, with 600ha effective. The ineffective is a mixture of established and regenerating native bush. The Gaddum’s approach is “conventional farming” with stock being rotated most of the year and set stocked in spring while ewes are lambing. They have established a couple of trial paddocks with multi-species pastures.
Kotare is also a pilot farm for Toha, the business to business organisation that aims to bridge the gap between finance and environmental action.
10,000 native trees were planted at the station during the winter of 2021 as part of the Motu Catchment Group. 2,000 were planted in 2019 and 400 higher canopy trees will be planted within these during 2022. They have 42ha of QEII National Trust natives and several new fenced-off areas of established natives.
“It's important because if the next generation is to farm hill country in New Zealand, the industry needs to be future proofed,” says Henry.
“The HCF programme is showcasing what initiatives are happening around the country to farmers with land similar to ours. It is gathering and providing information and data from a range of sources that can help hill country farms and communities become more effective and resilient.”
The couple see the biggest issue for hill country farmers is what is going to be decided for farmers around climate change mitigation.
“This decision will have a huge effect on hill country farming as we know it today. We are already seeing whole farms being blanket planted in pines due to the ETS and increasing carbon price.
“This removes this land from the industry and what we need to see is the Government pushing for integrated land use, rather than a blanket approach. Areas of native trees that
promote biodiversity should be recognised and valued accordingly, which will incentivise more long term and sustainable land use.”
The couple welcome the HCF programme’s focus on ‘telling the real story’ of hill country farming to promote more widespread understanding of the good work being done.
“As farmers, we are guardians of the land we are on and it’s our responsibility to create resilient businesses which promote and protect the farming industry whilst caring for the environment we farm in.
“Education is key, whether it's about farming practices, the environment or what our farming industry in New Zealand has to offer. Trust is important to consumers and these stories allow them to connect to the product they are buying.”
Along with the challenges facing hill country farmers, Henry and Sofie also see opportunities.
“Like the generations before us, we have the opportunity to farm in ways which leave a positive legacy for the next generation to pick up,” says Henry.
“Every farm is unique and this is great in a world where New Zealand strives to lead at producing food as efficiently and sustainably possible, as there are so many farmers finding better ways to do things.
“We have the opportunity to keep our produce at the top of the world order, and reap the high value associated with being there.”