Rob and Helen Pattullo
L-R: John Cannon, Challenge Consultancy and Rob Pattullo, Newstead Farm
Tucked in behind Napier on the coastal hills is Newstead Farm, an 817ha effective area farm with rolling to steep hills, a mixture of sandy and silt soils and temperamental weather – a combination which has required the team here to be proactive and well-prepared. Rob and Helen Pattullo have been farming this property for more than 30 years and it has been in Rob’s family for over a century.
It’s been a real team effort establishing a robust system that works well with the environment, land ability and family time. Rob is the manager, setting policy, doing compliance and financials, as well as being physically involved in the farm on a day to day basis.
He is supported by his wife Helen, who has run the ‘family’ business and helps with succession and planning. Zane Brink, the stock manager has been part of the team for several years and “is more than capable and has looked after the farm in my absence for long periods of time,” says Rob. The other integral team member is John Cannon, rural consultant in the Hawke’s Bay who has been working with Rob for a decade.
GETTING THE POLICIES RIGHT
Newstead’s stocking policy is predominantly bull based with 1,150 R2 bulls, 50 R1 bulls and 100 beef breeding cows, but it hasn’t always been this way, as the difficult climate has prompted changes over the years.
Rainfall is average and can come at any time, and there have been some particularly challenging seasons over the last few years.
“We’ve changed from a breeding focus to a flexible trading focus, and we’ve changed from a predominantly sheep farm with some breeding cows to a beef trading farm with just 50 sheep and 100 breeding cows. And the reason we did that was clearly we had to change and give ourselves flexibility and adaptability to climate”, says Rob.
John elaborates, “they wanted to look at what changes they could make to their livestock policy because for them, managing the dry and the location of it is a very important part of the business, so we set about building a system that had a lot of resilience around summer dry because we realised we could make money between April and Christmas time, but it was damn hard to do it any other time of the year so we built a system to fit that.”
COMPLEXITY MADE SIMPLE
This was how FARMAX was used when it came into the equation more than 12 years ago, prompted by what Rob described as a shift in farming speak that changed his way of thinking: “I joined FARMAX because all of a sudden I was exposed in my wider group of farming friends to a language that I didn’t understand, and they started to talk around performance and production and that sort of stuff and I wasn’t at that level and they were all shouting from the rooftops about how good this program called FARMAX was.”
The way the Newstead team use FARMAX is very simple, with one stock type system that is relatively straightforward, and this works well for Rob for a number of reasons. Rob and John realised the physical limits of the land they were working with, and instead of pushing for potentially unreasonable goals in production and performance they tailored their farm policies to suit the land.
“I think the important thing for us was to understand what our farm was good at and match a livestock policy to that as opposed to trying to match a premium livestock policy to a farm that just wasn’t going to fulfil that,” Rob explains.
Now they have a simple, robust system, with low cost and high efficiency, that John believes is relatively “futureproofed”. John adds, “Rob runs pretty close to the most unshakeable farming system you’d come across. At the end of the day it’s about maximising revenue, but it’s not just about maximising revenue it’s about minimising downside. So instead of having peaks and troughs in revenue because you’re chasing 110%, we’re actually probably trying to chase 90%, but making sure that we have very few peaks and troughs….It’s about consistency, consistently doing what we set out to do and doing it pretty well.”
Having a less intensive and more flexible farm system works well for the family’s lifestyle as well, which Rob is always thinking about as he makes changes to the farm, asserting “it’s a system that actually suits me, it’s sort of constant at times, but you don’t have these huge big peaks of a whole lot of stuff happening and then we have a nice summer period where everyone can get away and have a good break and then we just build up again.”
PREDICTABILITY IS KEY
FARMAX has been an important part in establishing a solid plan and regiment for the farm over the years, and now with over a decade of information stored and modelled in FARMAX files there is a wealth of data that helps predict what might happen and what can be expected.
The confidence that FARMAX provides is really worth it, an investment that gives some peace of mind.
“When we first started we built a system around what we thought was going to happen…we’re probably much better placed to know what is going to happen, the ability to predict the likely outcome around livestock performance and pasture covers is significantly enhanced…we have a high degree of confidence,” says John. Rob feels the same way, particularly due to the farm’s reliance on pasture: “No supplements are fed here, no crops grown, it’s a totally grass based system with a very modest amount of nitrogen used…it’s very important that FARMAX is predictable because we’ve got nothing else to fall back on really, and I can’t speak highly enough of it, it’s just been a fantastic tool for us.”
Perhaps most rewarding for Rob and John is that all the work they have done monitoring and planning over the years has paid off. They recently investigated some different scenarios and found that the best system was the one they already had. “That’s very satisfying”, says Rob, “but it’s always good to test…all the good work we did years ago we’ve got that system now.”
Rob and the team’s hard work and focus has been rewarded, having recently received the Ballance Soil Management Award in the Ballance Farm Environmental Awards. Recognising the impact of farming and keeping up with - or even staying ahead of - environmental regulations is something that Rob feels strongly about, and he sees this as a challenge rather than a burden. They work hard on protecting waterways and wetlands, putting in a concerted and worthwhile effort to ensure “we aren’t implicating ourselves and our farm and future generations in a system that isn’t going to be sustainable.”
Photo of Newstead Farm