Business Rural Spring 2021

56 | MEAT & WOOL » Queensberry Ridges Swing towards cattle a decision not A surplus of feed in May meant buying more stock in at Queensberry Ridges. Kim Newth F ine wool had a promising future when Richard and Di Somerville first bought into Queens- berry Ridges in the mid-1990s with a dream to realise the potential of what was then a fairly undeveloped merino property. Some 4000 mixed age ewes were being grazed on the Upper Clutha Valley run at that time. Wool prices, particularly for fine wool, were strong. “The finer the wool, the more valuable it was and so we set ourselves the goal of working towards a 16 micron fleece with good breeding stock and that worked well in the early days,” says Richard. Fast forward three decades and the run’s hills have been cleared of sheep. Letting the merino flock go, after working so hard to develop it, has been a tough call for Richard and Di and their farm partners Katherine Corich and Marius Van Der Bas and has not been a decision lightly made. After running a ruler over their sheep, beef and dairy support divisions a few years ago with the help of Wanaka business advisor Charlotte Gardiner, it became very clear that sheep was the laggard in the mix. They sought advice from experienced farm consultant Peter Young on what they could do to improve sheep performance. “We spent around two years looking at solutions, but got to the point where we just couldn’t find a pathway to acceptable profitability given where lamb and wool prices were going.” An added pressure on the struggling sheep operation was that the woolshed needed to be upgraded and investments made in new generation shearing gear. “Sheep farming is also a very labour intensive business that involves a lot of stock movements. State Highway 6 runs through the middle of our farm and we have six kilometres of road front- age. As the road has got busier, that has become increasingly hazardous for us too but adding an underpass would have been another substantial capital cost. “It is always difficult to make big decisions because once you’ve made them there’s no turning back and it impacts on our long standing and loyal staff. That’s the hardest part, but we went through the analysis and, with reluctance, all came to the same conclusion.” By the start of this year, the hard decision had been made to sell the flock. With sheep in good condition, the sale went ahead in mid-March. Bidding went well with hoggets particularly sought after. A big question has since arisen – what to do with the hill country. There is some grazing potential for the growing Angus beef side of the equation – “but equally we can choose not to graze it.” The shift away from sheep certainly creates a bigger role going forward for Jason Van Lierop, who manages dairy support and beef finishing at Queensberry Ridges. Jason has been farming on the run for some seven years now and is an astute stockman with a solid track record around both production and farm sustainability goals. “We’ll be quietly building stock numbers organi- cally, holding onto more of our heifers and taking them through to breeding stock,” observes Richard. “In May, because we had excess feed, we were able to buy stock in and we’re selling those now so this change is already giving us more flexibility in how we operate.” Professional hunter and pest controller extraordi- naire Gary Dick has made a huge dent in the farm’s rabbit numbers over the past year, resulting in more feed availability. Queensberry Ridges has been significantly improved over the years through investments made in irrigation – with border dykes replaced with ef- ficient pivots – and more fencing to create smaller sized hill blocks. “It was all about trying to improve productive capacity on a farm that was almost ranch-like at the start.” Katherine and Marius came in as partners in 2013, enabling Queensberry to purchase a further 500ha of adjoining flat land and to fast track the property’s irrigation programme. “We spent around two years looking at solutions, but got to the point where we just couldn’t find a pathway to acceptable profitability given where lamb and wool prices were going.” Richard and Di have also worked to diversify the farm, planting their Two Degrees vineyard there in 2003. Their award winning pinot noir has gone from strength to strength. In some ways, the swing towards cattle at Queensberry is a kind of full circle for Richard, who has fond memories of his uncle’s King Country Angus beef farm. “My uncle Max had an Angus stud and was very successful. I loved working on his farm in my younger years, throwing hay bales around and we used to ride horses there too. It was a wonderful upbringing that, for me, planted the seed about wanting to get involved with farming.” For all your spraying & liquid fertiliser requirements Phone John 0272 640 133 EARTHMOVING Call us for a FREE consultation • LAND CLEARING • SUBDIVISIONS • STOCK WATER • FARM CONVERSIONS • IRRIGATION RESERVOIRS • SITE WORKS • LANDSCAPING & DRIVEWAYS • TRANSPORT • PROJECT MANAGEMENT 240 Mt Pisa Rd, Cromwell | John: 027 273 2480 Office: 03 445 0455 | E: | With over 30 years experience our family owned & operated business specialises in earthworks HELICOPTER AGRICULTURAL SERVICES Contact: Ben Sarginson 027 243 5420