May Murphy recalls an incident 30 years ago - she and her
husband Robin were driving a friend, also involved in
dairying, through Ikawai-Glenavy.
''When Robin told him: 'In time this will all be dairying' he
thought he was joking - but it's happened,'' Mrs Murphy said.
Murphy Farms Ltd is run by Mr and Mrs Murphy together with
son Bruce and daughter-in-law Lesa Murphy. Bruce and Lesa's
children, Jack (11), Harry (10) Katie (6) and Lily (3) are
part of the family firm.
Morven-Glenavy based, the business runs several dairy units,
milking about 4500 cows on a 1180ha milking platform with
equivalent to 800ha run-off in the Otaio-Maungati district -
1480ha is irrigated, mostly by the Morven-Glenavy-Ikawai
Irrigation Company (MGI) scheme.
Beef and young stock form a major part of the wintering
programme and most agricultural work is carried out in-house.
When Mr Murphy decided to go dairying it brought with it an
interest in water.
''Water starts away back in my early life,'' Mr Murphy said.
He is MGI chairman, he is a member of the Waihao-Wainono
Water Use Society; he is Environment Canterbury's Lower
Waitaki South Coastal Canterbury zone committee chairman and,
until recently, a member of its Southern Regional Committee.
He was on the Lower Waitaki River Management Society.
He has been a member of the Hunter Downs Irrigation Scheme
since its inception and is a Hunter Downs Development Company
At 18, he leased land from his parents at Seadown and began
When the couple married in 1968, they went into partnership
and settled at Seadown, running the herd for cream supply.
Then followed a move to Ikawai in 1975 and they became one of
only four farms in the area taking whole milk through to
factory processing. ''It's grown a bit since then,'' Mr
The family made one more shift, in 1984.
''It was a big stepping stone; we never regretted it,'' Mr
They bought 200ha in a traditional sheep and beef farming
area near Glenavy to convert.
Waimate's temperate climate and reliable water resulted in
consistent production and a growing business.
These days they have taken a step back but a sound succession
plan built around living trusts, integrated into the business
plan and reviewed annually has smoothed the way for
transition to the next generation and the ''business has
continued to grow rapidly.''
There was no pressure on the grandchildren to become
involved, Mrs Murphy said.
''But the opportunity is there for them, if they want to.''
Alongside building their own business, the Murphys have
advocated for responsible and environmentally-sensitive
development to a sometimes dubious community.
A Waimate District councillor for two terms, Mr Murphy's
focus was economic development.
''I became hands-on because I saw the value [of irrigation
and dairy development] to the business and the community.''
It brought people in, it gave them employment in all kinds of
industries, like trades and services, and they became
involved in groups, schools, halls and sports.
''It grows the community,'' he said.
''Our grandchildren are so advantaged ... there are 12
different nationalities at their school,'' he said.
The challenge has often been to get city-dwellers to
understand the implications of some of the decisions
regulators impose, Mrs Murphy said.
But the Murphys have never been about development at all
costs. Repeatedly, conversations turn to careful use of water
and safeguarding and enhancing the environment.
Initially, the farm was predominantly irrigated by contour
border dykes, ''not a very efficient way of irrigating,'' Mr
They began ''playing around with water efficiency'', drew up
their own environmental farm plan in 1986 and made changes -
their system is now fully laser-levelled, wide-border.
There was a convincing argument for the environmental
benefits of well-managed border dykes despite the system
falling from favour, he said.
But environmental regulations pushing spray irrigation as a
preferred option might make it difficult to continue with the
However, Mr Murphy was confident the comprehensive data now
being collected by users and scientists would allow people to
make the best calls on new technology.
In his various roles he is fully involved with water users,
putting in place strategies to continue to modernise, monitor
and adapt water use and protect quality, to meet ever more
So, looking to the future, the biggest, ''not
insurmountable'', hurdle would be environmental questions
around land-use. Another question was raised by the trend
towards housing cows and how that fitted with ''free-range'',
Mrs Murphy said.
''We need to hand on to our children the belief they can be
proud to be in agriculture, to produce food, to feed the
And dairying was a most efficient way of turning grass into
food, Mr Murphy said.