Doug and Fraser Avery
Fraser (c) and Doug (r) Avery with Farmax General Manager Gavin McEwen
The Avery family is well known in agricultural communities in New Zealand for their positive, pragmatic and successful approach to farming through adversity. Doug and Wendy Avery run Resilient Farmer, comprising of books, workshops and seminars detailing their own journey battling he black dog, tough climatic conditions and industry regulations, and inspiring other farmers to grow the right mindset to run successful farms and healthy lives.
Their son Fraser Avery now runs the family farm Bonaveree, which has been in the family for 99 years. Working together and learning from past challenges, Doug and Fraser have established a productive and profitable farm business that accentuates and fits in with their lifestyle.
The Opportunity Mindset
Bonaveree sits near Lake Grassmere in Marlborough, just south of Blenheim, the 2,300ha of land a mixture of flat rolling, hard hill and erosion prone soil divided into 380 paddocks. It is a large operation, with up to 20,000 stock units – currently an even balance of sheep and cattle (it used to be 80/20 sheep/cattle) including sheep and beef breeding/finishing, friesian bull beef, fine wool lambs and dairy grazing.
Doug explains, “we are roughly 50/50 capital stock to opportunity stock... that single thing is one of the biggest aids in helping us manage the variance in the seasons, whatever happens during the season, we make sure we have the right number of stock to balance and demand.”
Fraser adds: “we use the word opportunity stock because that directs your brain to the right place – don’t buy stock if they don’t represent an opportunity.”
The farm team includes two stock managers, two shepherds, a tractor driver and Fraser as the general manager, plus contractors as needed. Health and safety is always a major consideration, especially as over time the number of people working on the farm has increased, and thus the amount of vehicles crossing paths. “People are our priority here,” says Doug, “we don’t want anyone knocked around just sheerly because they were at work.”
Understanding The Farm
Fraser, as manager, oversees the staff, budgets and technology, including FARMAX. Graeme Ogle of Rezare Systems and Ogle Consulting, introduced Doug and Fraser to FARMAX back in 2005 with the goal of building a resilient farm system. Fraser now uses FARMAX every day, combining his natural level of understanding and intuition with the knowledge and insight that FARMAX produces.
“It takes your eyeometer and natural level of gut feel and really enhances and strengthens your interpretations through data and monitoring…I believe it [FARMAX] gave us a really good understanding of where we’re at, because prior to that I don’t believe we really knew,” says Doug.
The old farm system had very little flexibility and the team did not really know how well the farm was performing. Since using FARMAX, the guesswork has been taken out, and they very rarely get results they did not expect. Now they are able to capitalise on opportunities because they have the systems set up to make changes as prophesised by FARMAX, taking into account the payouts, weather, grass growth and environmental conditions.
The direction the team has taken the farm has been driven by the harsh landscape, meaning they have had to cope with limited natural nitrogen and fight erosion by planting trees. Their attitude is very much – don’t fight the farm, work with it.
Lucerne is a big focus on the farm, although it is not always plain sailing. Derrick Moot from Lincoln University has been instrumental in helping establish Lucerne on the farm and with the on-going management. Doug and Fraser were disappointed that more research dollars are not being spent on legume crops given their potential benefit to New Zealand farm systems.
Doug called Ryegrass - which seems to still attract the majority of research funding – a “fair weather sailor”; it is fine when the wind is at its back, but when conditions turn against it, particularly in a climate like theirs, it can almost become a weed. It is not an efficient user of soil moisture compared to Lucerne.
Nutrition is extremely important, and Fraser and Doug prioritise allowing animals to reach their genetic potential, appreciating a lot of animals on New Zealand farms are genetically stifled because they are not given the adequate nutrition and support they need.
Always Striving For Better
Although the property is well developed and established, the team is constantly trying to do better, fine tuning to get the best results possible. Labour is a significant challenge being in such a remote spot, and they appreciate they could probably do with one more full time employee to ensure that Fraser is given appropriate time to work on the farm business in FARMAX and other farm technology - what Doug refers to as the $1,000 per hour job, because of the value it adds to the business,
Upon reflection, Doug admits that he could have been better at separating farm life and home life, hence why he now encourages and trains other people on how to not feel so overwhelmed with the often lonely and unforgiving farm life, and where to get the support they need in areas of consultancy, technology, finances and mental health.
With an ever changing agricultural industry, Fraser is always aware of future challenges, particularly those stemming from increasing compliance and farm assurance; he asserts that farmers who haven’t embraced tools like FARMAX and FarmIQ will find it increasingly difficult to keep up with all the challenges that are facing the industry. Despite the diversities that lay ahead, Fraser is certain that there is a great future ahead for Bonaveree in New Zealand’s red meat industry.