NZ Dairy Summer 2021

| 35 nzdairy DAIRY PEOPLE » Kenneth & Rachel Short Organic conversion not a quantum leap Russell Fredrics While production is not Kenneth and Rachel Short’s key driver, milk quality, animal welfare, pasture, people and managing costs are still an important part of their holistic approach to organic farming. The couple are equity partners with Rachel’s parents, Louis and Barbara Kuriger, on two farms 13 kilometres apart near Opunake. Shortland Farm 1 is 168ha, peak milking 400 cows while Shortland Farm 2 is 68ha, peak milking 190 cows. Both the farms are self-contained and carry their own young stock. Following a three year process, Shortland 1 was certified organic in 2019, 10 months after its sister farm was certified. Because of the way the farms were run, the organic conversion was not a quantum leap, Rachel says. “Basically we were a self-contained system 1 conventional farm, pretty close to organic – there’s quite a few organic farms in Taranaki – we got curious and started to look into it and at the time Fonterra were starting to ramp up and take on inconversion organic farmers.” “We were more formalising what we were already doing rather than converting to organic. There were changes to our fertilisers and other things but we were never urea users, we never had feed coming in the gate.” Shortland Farm 1 is 168ha, peak milking 400 cows while Shortland Farm 2 is 68ha, peak milking 190 cows. Kenneth and Rachel Short with sons Zak (13) and Max (10). Despite this, one significant shift was understanding what was happening in what Kenneth and Rachel now realise is their biggest asset, the soil. Rachel admits they previously paid zero attention to soil biology. “We had never dug holes to count worms and look at root depth structures and all that sort of stuff whereas now that’s been the biggest change and now we farm from the soils up; beforehand we didn’t ever know what was going on underground.” Understanding the soil makeup and how to improve it has been foundational during the past 18 months. This has included assessing root depth and worm counts, water infiltration and the overall constitution of the soil, all of which have significantly improved since the organic conversion. Also foundational was moving from a monoculture of ryegrass to multiple-species pasture. “We’ve seen our roots grow deeper down into the soils. You couldn’t do that on ryegrass, you can’t do it on monoculture. It’s been quite a transformation.” The improved soil has a noticeably better water holding capacity. “We’ve come through a wet spring. There are places on the farm that would always be holding [surface] water and it’s just so different. After 50mm of rain the soil’s just absorbed it like a sponge just like it should.” Kenneth and Rachel have a Jersey herd that last season produced 133,122kgMS or about 83% of their body weight in milk solids. While this is not outstanding in itself, their farm working expenses of $2.65 per kilo and $4,493 operating profit per hectare would be envied by the majority of their peers as would the higher premium, which is variable, that can be achieved through organic production. Notably the farm working expenses does not reflect any corner cutting as the welfare of both their cows and staff is of prime importance as well as, more broadly, social justice, family and worklife balance. Endorsing this ethic, the couple employ one “well remunerated” full-time worker on a five on, two off roster. • ALL FARM WIRING & REPAIRS • NEW HOUSE WIRING & ALTERATIONS OPUNAKE 027 207 7775 • NEW COWSHED WIRING & ALTERATIONS • ELECTRICAL INSPECTIONS TALK TO THE EXPERTS FOR FARMING SUPPORT Kinatai Engineering is proud to support Rachel and Kenneth of Shortland Farms Call Troy on 027 857 5747 for all your Engineering requirements