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Peter and Nicole Carver - Ohangai, Taranaki

Sustainable farming practices and a diversified drystock and dairying operation have proved to be a winning formula for Ohangai farmers Peter and Nicola Carver. The couple, who farm in south Taranaki, took out the Supreme award in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards last year.

The 515 hectare property operates as one third sheep, one third beef and one third dairy and the Carvers have retired all the steeper land and planted it back into trees. The sheep and beef side is a breeding and finishing operation, with 1300 breeding ewes lambing at about 130% and most progeny fattened.

There are 55 breeding cows, finishing what they can and selling the balance store. The dairy platform runs as a system one/two, predominantly grass-based but with some maize silage and meal fed. 

Holmleigh is a family farm, owned by the couple in partnership with the family trust (Peter's parents). His father purchased the original farm in 1990 and in 2002, when Peter and Nicola came home, they purchased additional land to add to the property.

The farm has a good mix of contour, with one third dead flat, one third medium hill and the balance steeper land. The couple has strived to match classes of land to classes of stock.

Opportunity to diversify

They converted a portion of the farm to dairy in 2014 and have just finished their fourth season.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a dairy farmer, or ever wanted to be, but it provided the opportunity to diversify and maximise our income from the land and make it more financially sustainable in the future”

“With the dairy herd we are able to keep the progeny for ourselves and don’t have to buy in any stock. Most things are bred here and we run efficiently, without requiring outside stock.”

They milk 260 cows and keep all progeny out of the milking herd as well as from the beef cows. They aim to rear and fatten the offspring, but often sell a portion store.

“We use the progeny from the Angus cows to tail off the dairy herd and any surplus we sell into the dairy industry."

Through subsidies from the Taranaki Regional Council they have been able to retire the more marginal land.

“The land had a lot of weeds, gorse and scrub and was prone to erosion. The afforestation scheme was an opportunity to retire that land. It wasn’t making a lot of money, if any. It has also helped with soil erosion and stabilising that.”

Nicola explains they also operate a no tillage policy on the farm and have focused on improving the soil structure. 

“We were asked to enter the Ballance awards. We have never really put ourselves out there before but thought it was a good opportunity to see where we were and how we could improve. It’s good to get an outside view of your business”

As it turned out, they were certainly on the right track and were pleasantly surprised to find themselves scooping the top prize nationally in the awards.

“We were pretty gobsmacked, but it was very reassuring to know we were on the right path. We are still coming to grips with the whole thing. Rabobank was one of the ones who encouraged us to enter.”

The right people

The decision to move to Rabobank in 2004 was a positive change for the Carvers.

“We tend to follow the people rather than the bank, but we had opportunities and felt we were being pushed back,” Peter says of the reason for the move. 

“Rabobank has been supportive of us being innovative and trying new things.
We found them really encouraging and they knew agriculture”

The couple believes Rabobank has the right people for them and they appreciate that they are dealing with people who are experts in agriculture. 

They have been encouraging of us trying things, like when we found the family farm was a little bit small and we needed more land, and when we did the dairy conversion they could see where we were coming from.  "With the no tillage they had good information to share from other farmers, which was useful. We have a bank manager that understands our business.”

They say their relationship with the bank is a vital element of their business success. “It makes it easy. We need to know we have support – we’re not just waiting for the next interest bill,” Peter says.

“You feel they are standing by you and working with you rather than for you. They want you to succeed in what you are doing,” Nicola says. The ability to do things online and good systems makes life easier, though they still know they can call the bank at any time. Rabobank also prompted the Carvers to put the wheels in motion for smooth farm succession, helping to put a robust plan in place.

“They instigated getting that started. The sooner we did it, the better it was for everybody. They were supportive of us entering the Ballance awards and recognised our point of difference too.”
The couple tries to get along to annual events and speakers organised by the bank, which they always find beneficial. They are also part of a farm discussion group facilitated by the bank in conjunction with their local vet clinic. 

“It’s really the people in the bank. They always have good people in good places and that’s why we went there initially – the right people.”