David and Jonathon Brownrigg know what it’s like to farm through the tough times. There was a time in the 1980s, not long after they had taken over the family farm, when their love of farming was tested by the downturn in agriculture.
But although it was a fight all the way, the pair survived and in the past 15 years have turned the family’s 500ha into a massive, diversified, large scale farming business based at Poukawa, 20km south of Hastings. “It is amazing what comes out of adversity,” David says.
Brownrigg Agriculture comprises 12 farms, 5 cropping properties and orchards throughout Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa and Manawatu. It farms a total of 11,210ha of which 2323ha is freehold and the rest leased.
The family has farmed in Hawkes Bay since the 1920s, David and Jonathon’s grandfather and father increasing the initial 40ha to 500ha in the early 1980s. The pair took over management of the farm when their father died in 1981 and bought the rest of the family’s shares in 1989. Now David runs the livestock side of the operation and Jonathon the cropping, employing a total of 80 full time staff and 170 full time equivalents including seasonal workers.
As well as sheep, beef and cropping operations, the company is involved in a joint venture research company with scientist Dr Paul Muir at the former AgResearch farm at Poukawa.
The 11,200ha run by the company includes 800ha of maize, 2500ha of cropping (most of which is new grass followed by cash crops) producing 11,000 tonnes of export squash and finishing for 300,000 lambs and 5000 steers and bulls, 5000 breeding Wagyu cows for the Japanese market, livestock share farming.
Integral to the management of the livestock enterprises is FARMAX. A minority shareholder in FARMAX, David is naturally enthusiastic about its potential and points to being part of its development for the past 10 years.
“We adopted a feed planning approach to our operations 10 years ago and FARMAX is the enhancement and commercialisation of that. The farm company was growing and we wanted to delegate without slipping and a feed planning approach let us improve our per hectare pasture performance.”
But it is the linking of pasture performance with financial performance which really makes FARMAX stand out for David.
“It’s a key decision support for us,” he says. “We can grow our business without the wheels falling off, farm more objectively and more precisely and optimise physical performance. With FARMAX’s help we have raised our gross margins and optimised our per hectare results – over all the farms,” he said.
“As well as providing an overview of each individual farming enterprise, FARMAX gives a picture of the entire company’s progress. FARMAX has enabled us to grow because it is a proactive tool which helps us make order out of chaos.”
David also called the program a good communication tool because it provides benchmarking between the 12 livestock properties.
“We give our managers the best information so they can plan out the likely scenarios, make the best decisions and focus on what we can influence.
“FARMAX is so flexible that the regular Friday conference call checks on variances in pasture cover and allows adjustments of stocking levels to suit the current circumstances. We can see where we are today and plan for tomorrow,” David says.