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Dunfield Farming

Rodney first came to the property about 20 years ago, as manager for owners Ross and Margaret Manson.

“I came to work for the Mansons in a manager’s role and it evolved from there. They offered us a shareholding in the land, stock and plant.” 

They formed a company, with Rodney and his wife Sonia both shareholders, along with Ross and Margaret and their daughter Rowen Manson, who also works on the farm.

“ Rowen and I work on the farm doing all the day to day stuff and while retired Margaret and Ross still show a keen interest in the farm. Everyone lives on the farm, so it’s a bit like a family atmosphere.”

Irrigation transformation

The 400 hectare farm is flat and the move from dryland to irrigation has completely changed the way they do things. Now they focus on finishing and trading, predominantly beef, with some sheep.

“We’ve been shareholders in the Central Plains Water Scheme for a long time. The main headrace for the scheme bisects the farm, so we are right there at ground zero,” Rodney says.

“When the water became available we decided to go all out and irrigate the whole farm with 11 centre pivots. It was a whole farm development, we re-fenced the whole property. We had a new layout and new lanes to suit the irrigation."

“We had the massive windstorm in 2013. It basically flattened all the trees on the property and that gave us a clean slate to work with. When the wind stopped it looked like an absolute disaster, but in hindsight it was the best thing that happened.” 

They buy in 350 to 400 heavier weaner calves in April to May each year from the weaner fairs, most of which are killed at about 15 months old – nothing stays beyond the first winter. The rest of the gaps on the farm are filled with older cattle, 15- 18 month animals. “We won’t winter anything more than one winter,” he explains.

Dunfield Farming

They also like to stick to the traditional cattle breeds, mostly Angus and Hereford, which are fed on a diet of good quality ryegrass and clover-based pastures and wintered on a mix of kale and Fodder Beet.

“We use the Fodder Beet for finishing cattle over the winter. In the case of the calves, we start to kill at around Christmas time. A lot of the cattle we are killing are about 15 months, that’s why we target the heavier calves and pick the eyes out of the best lines.

“To get them to 280-300kg off mum, off harder country, they have to have something genetically going for them. The growth rates from spring on, once they come off the crop, are quite phenomenal.” 

Dunfield Farming

Silver Fern Farms relationship

Dunfield is a 100% Silver Fern Farms supplier and shareholder, with the meat processor sourcing a significant number of cattle privately for Dunfield. 

“We built a brand new set of cattle yards with weigh gear. We can now build a profile of cattle from certain properties and target the ones that really perform on the Eating Quality (EQ) grading. We record and track how the animals from specific properties are performing and working with SFF gives us access to their contracts and the Angus programme, which ties in with EQ.”

The SFF EQ system is a science-backed grading process, which allows it to guarantee consumers a better beef eating experience. The EQ system rates beef on seven scientific criteria proven to contribute to the eating quality of red meat. 

Currently, Dunfield averages a 50% (national average 24%) hit rate in meeting the EQ criteria. “We focus quite heavily on people who buy bulls for their high Intra Muscular Fat (IMF) percentage, which translates to marbling. To us, a 300kg carcase weight steer that hits EQ is worth a significant premium.” 

A valued relationship

Rodney says they have a good bank manager in Rodney Smith, and that’s why their business is with the Rabobank.

“We’ve had a pretty good run and got a really good bank manager in Rodney. They have provided support all the way, but the key thing for us with Rabobank is that most, if not all, of their managers have a background in agriculture.

“When they come on-farm they actually know what they’re talking about, which is huge for us. They are on track with the type of bank managers they employ. They know exactly what our needs are at different times of the year, and seasonal facilities.”  

Rabobank was there every step of the way when they were setting up the company and equity partnership. “What we did wasn’t that common at the time and they were quite involved, providing information and advice on how to do it.”

Then, when they changed the farm to fully irrigated, the bank was there again. “We were fortunate we started from a position where the land was freehold but most of the development work was done through borrowing from the bank,” he says.

“You put irrigation on the Canterbury Plains and you have a significant increase in equity. We had a plan and costings of what we wanted to do, we all sat down and they fully supported us all the way. Rabobank, to us, has been more of a support role and it’s been quite a friendly relationship.” 
Dunfield Farming