Business Rural Spring 2021

10 | Inventive streak boosts beat business Photos: Sonia and Mark Dillon flanked by Mt Cook. Sonia helped organise the NZ Ploughing Championships at the Dillon farm at Riversdale in April. Mark’s tractor is in the background. Virginia Wright RURAL PEOPLE » Sonia & Mark Dillon T he heavy clay-based soil on Sonia and Mark Dillon’s home farm in Riversdale has made certain decisions regarding what they plant or graze fairly straightforward. The 380 hectare home block is a mixed operation of arable and a few sheep and beef although their numbers of capital livestock have reduced as the arable side has grown. An important addition is their contracting busi- ness using a beet harvester which travels from Tuatapere, in Western Southland, to Patearoa in Central Otago. It began when they had to lift their beet crop to preserve their own soil. “My husband’s quite inventive,” says Sonia. “So he managed to find a single row beet harvester which he modified to make a double, then he moved on to modifying an old potato harvester into a beet harvester, and eventually we got a new purpose-built machine which is when we started the contracting, around 2014.” They now own or lease an additional 500 or so hectares of land on free-draining river-flats which provide good winter grazing and helps keep the staff occupied over winter and provides an impor- tant part of their cashflow. “We were disillusioned with sheep so decided to move into something that was a little more forgiving than the sheep and wool market,” says Sonia. “We still have 400 sheep but we now grow about 500 hectares of crop split 50:50 between barley and wheat, plus 15 hectares of oats. We still grow around 100 hectares of fodder beet and we lift and sell what we grow on the home farm. We winter graze around 3000 dairies plus about 80 cattle of our own.” The Dillon’s two boys Blaine (12), and Rylan (10) and their daughter Ashlyn (8s), have an eye on cashflow as well. They’re in their third year of help- ing raise 28 calves across two pens which come on farm around this time of year, are kept for 18 months to two years until they’re at least 550 kilos, and then sold to the works. “The deal is that they feed them the milk for the first eight weeks or so then we take over the grazing. We pay for the expensive things like the milk powder and the calves and they each get the proceeds of one calf per pen to go into their bank account and the rest pays for all the expenses. They’ve done a good job the last couple of years and the last lot we killed we got $1600 per animal but we’re hoping for a bit more this year,” says Sonia. Sonia has been a paying member of Federated Farmers since she began farming after university. She started following them more closely during their efforts to create public awareness about the ramping up of environmental regulations because she knew it was going to be important for their business, and began attending some of the South- land Federated Farmers’ Arable Section meetings. When the call for a chairperson at this year’s AGM was met with complete silence she rose to the challenge. “I can’t stand the thought of a job that needs to be done not being done so here I am,” she says. “I’m still learning my role to be fair, and there’s a lot going on at the moment with Covid, and lack of staff, and environmental regulations and the Three Waters regulations so there’s a lot of meetings. All the fun stuff!” As Sonia says she’s a person who prefers to be part of the solution not part of the problem, and she isn’t someone to sit back and whinge when they’ve got the option of being involved, which is why she was part of Federated Farmers in the first place. “I hate hearing things second hand too, so it’s good to know from the get-go what’s happening and I just want to do a good job while I’m here,” says Sonia. Rylan (10), Ashlyn (8) and Blaine Dillon (12) are in their third year helping raise 28 calves. 15a Hokonui Drive, Gore PO Box 172, Gore 9740 Phone: 03 208 9240 Email: Pleased to support Sonia & Mark Dillon Mike Millard | Craig Carran | Nathan Heenan | Sarah Collie Suppliers of Agricultural Chemical and Seed | 027 227 1360 Working alongside clients to provide expert technical and crop advice Phone: 03 202 5467 Email: PO Box 140, 109 Riversdale-Waikaia Rd, Riversdale 9744 Brian Mahon - Director Cell: 027 436 5118 Carl Scully - After Hours Cell: 027 630 3164