David Crutchley with a trial plot showing the benefits of
guano application at Shortlands Station. Photo by Sally
It would be fair to say there was a reasonable amount of
frustration at Shortlands Station a few years ago.
David Crutchley admitted he was ''pretty unhappy'' with where
the property, near Kyeburn, was heading.
They could not get lambing percentages up in the halfbred ewe
breeding flock and they could not get the paddocks growing or
Yet Mr Crutchley and his wife, Glenis, wanted to expand the
operation to help ''set up'' sons Charles and James, who are
both farming, and daughter Zara, a registered valuer.
They might have been average-to-good farmers on their
figures, but they were not getting the returns they should
have been getting, Mr Crutchley said.
It was not a sustainable farming system and he candidly
admitted the property needed help.
The frustrating aspect was he knew there was ''huge
potential'', especially in the lower hill country, so it was
time for changes.
A threefold approach was eventually taken, encompassing
changes to the sheep and fertiliser policies and becoming
involved in a business mentoring programme.
When it came to sorting the grass issue, Mr Crutchley decided
he had better do some learning, and started reading and
He also decided to interview ''anybody and everybody''
interested in selling him fertiliser, and most went back down
the driveway empty-handed. He wanted a solution, not a
product, he said.
That was until Bill Thompson, from Healthy Soils, turned up
in 2008 and, despite not looking at the farm, was able to
describe what was happening to the soil and why they were not
growing grass, Mr Crutchley said.
Both he and Charles, who returned to farm on the property
about 2001, were impressed by his knowledge.
They discovered they had lost the biology in their soils,
which were fragile anyway. So impressed were they that when
Mr Crutchley suggested they try half the programme, Charles
said: ''Do the whole thing''.
Healthy Soils, a Dunedin-based company established in 2007,
was the result of the amalgamation of three companies -
Humatech, Folia Feed and Healthy Soils.
Its programme was about rebalancing soil minerals and
establishing a healthy biological population. At Shortlands,
there were simple but amazing results that got some
biological action ''going again'', Mr Crutchley said.
Instead of oversupplying some base elements, they
concentrated on balancing the elements. They used to grow
7000kg DM but now expected at least 12,000kg.
For Charles Crutchley, the changes on the property meant
guaranteed feed supply every year, which was the basis of
''achieving what we need to achieve''.
Making the fertiliser change was not a big decision.
''It [prior to that] was pretty bad. We could always go
back,'' he said.
''It was pretty much simple, really; we might as well try it.
We haven't looked back since.''
While it was a long-term programme, they were growing the
tonnes of feed needed and there were virtually instant
results in the first crops, even during a dry year. Feeding
out in winter was much less busy now they had more feed.
''I just believed what we were doing was right, until it
stopped working. I probably always saw it not working. I'd
never really seen this farm with grass until about five years
ago,'' Charles said.
Their price per hectare of fertiliser has halved and the area
treated has doubled. Because the soils were now working, so
was the cash flow and they now had quality
animal-eating-grade food, Mr Crutchley said.
In a change to their sheep policy, they graded all the sheep
and mated only the top two-thirds of the ewes, going to a
Texel-Perendale and then a Texel-Romney cross. The lambing
percentage went from 105% to 138%.
Mr Crutchley had a message to farmers: Good practices achieve
good results but don't let good be in the way of great; great
practices achieve great results.
Farmers only had to use basic principles and the market was
at their fingertips with quality product, he said.
David Crutchley's father bought Shortlands Station in 1946.
An additional farm was bought at Palmerston seven years ago
and another property added last year. James Crutchley is now
farming 8000 stock units at Palmerston.
While the flats at Shortlands were ''pretty much all up to
speed'', the next step was to get the hill country going.
There was ''a wee way to go yet'' but Charles believed they
could ''slow down a wee bit'', having ''really raced'' to get
where they were now.
It had all been ''pretty positive'' from the time they took
the first step to change what they were doing. The goal in
the near future was to utilise the hill country to achieve a
strong position on both properties. A single worker was
employed on both properties to cope with the workload.
Utilising the people around them made them accountable, he
''We're constantly getting asked what we're doing by those
people to justify those decisions.''
David Crutchley stressed that science and innovation could be
done by the farmer.
''Why do we have to sit back and wait for the industry to do
it?'' A field day would be held at Shortlands Station when
science results from trials were ready to be presented, he