NZ Dairy Autumn 2022

42 | nzdairy Choosing family pays back in spades Russell Fredric At a relatively young age, fifth generation Southland farmers Robert and Cate Willis decided to take the bull by the horns and move off their farm to pursue alternative goals and ambitions. Robert concedes it wasn’t initially easy to let go of the reins, especially when they had made significant gains across the farm in production, animal welfare and environmentally. However five years later the couple have settled into life without cows on their doorstep, having moved to a new house on a lifestyle block near Invercargill. The farm is still owned by them, but run day-today by a contract milker. Their 112 hectare effective self-contained farm is a couple of gumboot tosses from Riverton at Gummies Bush, a few kilometres inland from the coast. It was converted from sheep in 2001 and is supported by a leased 120 hectare run-off and peak milks 340 cows through a herringbone shed with in-shed feed. Robert confesses to being a goal-oriented workaholic who lived and breathed the farm and recognises his children, Isabella,17, and Luca, 12, were inclined to get the leftovers of his energy and attention “instead of doing it the opposite way round”. “That was one of the moments that I thought I’ve only got my life once, I’ve only got my kids once.” The couple’s timing was not exactly immaculate to make such a major move, but neither was it impulsive; even Robert was growing up on the farm with the view of becoming a farmer, he thought of changing his career when he turned 40. “I think the payout was $3.88 and we stepped off and bought a new home when the payout was at its lowest and we decided that if we can make it work now we can make it work anytime.” “I had a passion to look at something else while I was forty and young, I was part of the St John ambulance service in Riverton and I moved into to a full-time role in Invercargill.” “It took two years to let go of the farm and probably three years to let go of all the things we have achieved. It’s actually been quite a challenge to step out of the operation like that. “I probably mourned it for two years and now it fits quite well in the sense of what we’ve planned to do.” Rob currently visits the farm every three days, while Cate home schools Luca. Reflecting their passion for continuous improvement and commitment to excellence, in 2020 Robert and Cate were recognised in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. They received the Bayleys People in Primary Sector Award, WaterForce Wise with Water Award and The Plant Store: Farm Planting and Design Award. A significant amount of drainage has been completed over the past 17 years and all creeks, streams and sensitive areas are fenced, plus a DAIRY PEOPLE » Robert & Cate Willis comprehensive planting plan was implemented. Their focus on reducing the farm’s long-term environmental footprint includes a sophisticated system that enables effluent to be discharged to soils, reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers. Caring for their cows has led to the exploration of innovative farm practices that improve animal health – many of which were introduced ahead of modern regulations that made them compulsory. Even better, all of this has been achieved in the context of consistent production gains with the cows producing 100% or more of their body weight in milk solids. “It took two years to let go of the farm and probably three years to let go of all the things we have achieved. It’s actually been quite a challenge to step out of the operation like that.” Robert still visits the farm every three days. The 112ha farm is still owned by the Willises, but run by a contract milker. • Log Cartage • Stock / Bulk • PROUDLY SUPPORTING ROBERT AND CATE WILLIS Fertiliser • Gravel • Contracting • ransporting T 0800 22 5899 03 225 8356 Otautau 03 225 5899 Pukemaori 03 234 8120 Riverton Proud to support Robert and CateWillis