Home' Northern Outlook : May 18th 2013 Contents 4 May, 2013
CENTRAL SOUTH ISLAND FARMER
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Station manager 'living the dream'
Smedley Station's cadets learn respect for the environment from hands-on experience. Jon Morgan reports on the award-winning
OF THE 80 young men and
women applying each year to go to
Smedley Station, the agricultural
training farm running sheep,
cattle and deer in the Central
Hawke s Bay hills, only 11 are
Once there they come under the
spell of station manager Terry
Walters, his wife, Judy, and their
team of managers.
It s two years they will never
forget, Mr Walters says.
They play hard and they work
bloody hard, he said.
One word sums up the station
and its programme: Respect.
Respect for the farm, the
training staff, their fellow cadets,
their gear, their dogs, their
horses, he said.
And respect for the
environment. Each year, the farm
retires a little more bush and
locks it away in a covenant with
the Queen Elizabeth Trust. The
cadets do the fencing, spray gorse
and weeds and trap possums.
It s how they learn about
sustainability, Walters said.
It s see, touch and feel. It s a
physical experience, it s the
blisters on their hands, it s
hearing the native birds calling.
It s not out of a book. It has
purpose and meaning.
And best of all, they are
learning it at the beginning of
their farming careers; they will
take it through life with them.
Since he took over as manager
in 2002, 150 hectares have been
covenanted. The change is
deliberately slow, to give each
intake of students the experience.
It s the same with safeguarding
the creeks that run through the
5054ha farm. They are gradually
being fenced, and eels, crayfish,
geckos and wetas protected.
We ve done a lot and there s a
lot more to do, but we re in no
hurry. It s how the cadets learn,
Their efforts have been
recognised with this year s
supreme prize in the Hawke s Bay
farm environment awards.
The station was bequeathed to
the Crown in 1919 for agricultural
training when owner Josiah
Howard died, and 630 youngsters
have graduated since 1931.
Applications are whittled down
to 50 before interviews begin.
They must have a burning
passion for agriculture and they
must be a team player. In a close-
knit hostel a person who prefers
their own company will have two
Chosen cadets embark on a life-
Horses play a key role as
transport and for stock work.
Cadets learn how to break in and
train station hacks.
There s a huge amount of
personal growth when a cadet
breaks in a horse, Walters said.
There s a lot of learning in horses
-- caring for horses, working with
horses -- for young people. The
confidence that flows from that is
However, there is no room for
sentiment when a Smedley horse
has reached the end of its working
days. They are sold or put down.
It costs $260,000 a year to run
the training arm of the business,
adding to the challenges Walters
and his team face. The drought
will make that harder this year,
contributing to a reduction in
gross income to an estimated $550
Animals drank 10 times more
water to cope, springs stopped
running, dams dried up, pastures
were quickly chewed down and
winter crops failed.
Feed budgeting -- monitoring
grass growth to predict future
feed availability -- meant the early
reduction of stock levels. Many
lambs were sold, more stock were
culled and tonnes of supplements
The days have cooled but the
farm is still in moisture deficit.
Walters is preparing for a harsh
He came to Smedley as stock
manager in 1996. When he took
over as manager six years later,
outlying blocks had been sold and
two neighbouring properties
added. The purchases added more
cultivatable land but $16.5
million. Debt ballooned to $9m.
His job was to lift profitability
and he set about redesigning the
farming systems, changing to
Kelso composite sheep to produce
faster-growing, meaty lambs.
The next 10 years were hard as
hill country incomes fluctuated
but the debt is now down to $4m.
Driving that has been a
lambing per centage varying from
140 to 152 per cent, with 17,500
lambs finished each year.
His commitment to protecting
the environment has not wavered,
though he says this depends on
You have to afford it.
Sustainability has a multitude of
meanings and it has to be
Last year he compiled a profile
of the farm s fragile silt loam soils
to help combat the loss of soil.
Power harrows are banned,
ploughing is a last resort and
most of the sowing of crops and
new pastures is by direct drilling.
At 47, he wants to stay in the
job for a while yet, but has an
idealised view of a retirement in
the Far North, fishing with his
I have a passion for farming
and for helping young people in
farming, handing down the
knowledge I have acquired about
this farm, the stock and the
It s the most wonderful place.
I m living the dream and every
day I have to pinch myself to be
sure it s real.
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