Southern seed sector set to grow

Inspecting a crop sprayer in South Otago are (from left) Seed Grower of the Year Craig Whiteside...
Inspecting a crop sprayer in South Otago are (from left) Seed Grower of the Year Craig Whiteside and team members Paul Sinclair and Callum Wilson. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Expect seed to continue to flourish, a South Otago seed grower says.

Seed Grower of the Year Craig Whiteside said the seed industry was big and getting bigger.

Suppliers were seeking more seeds to be grown out of traditional production regions, such as Canterbury.

If a region became saturated with crops there was a greater potential for contamination by cross pollination.

Consequently, cropping was an "increasing market" in Otago and Southland, where more land was available.

He believed there was potential for more arable farming in the South but the region did face challenges, such as climate, soils, and topography.

"It’s not all flat land."

The Whiteside family runs a mixed cropping system on about 875ha in Waiwera South.

The farm moved to a 100% cropping operation about 10 years ago, introducing small seed production.

Now about 60% of the crop was cereals — a mix of barley, oats, triticale and wheat.

Of the cereal crops, about 70% went to the dairy sector.

About 15% of the cereal crop was produced as food for people, such as oats supplied to Harraway & Sons Ltd.

The remaining cereal crop supplied feed mills and the sheep and beef sector.

Nearly a quarter of the farm was used to grow crops on contract — about 100ha of peas and beans, about 75ha of ryegrass and about 30ha of brassica seed production.

Most of the contracts were for growing seeds for PGG Wrightson to export.

About 50ha of the farm was pasture to "cut and carry" and about 95ha was pasture for stock grazing.

Ewes graze in summer and lambs in the winter.

About 5% of the large-scale operation was used to trial new crops.

"I really get a kick out of trying something new and seeing if we can get it to work in our climate."

Results from past trials had proved maize could be grown in the South but lotus seed could not.

The farm operation allowed a good lifestyle and only a few challenges.

One of the biggest challenges was battling a public perception continuous cropping derogates the soil and biodiversity of the farm.

To ensure the farming system was environmentally sustainable, nutrient use was monitored and new farming techniques were explored, such as direct drilling.

For the first time next year, every crop would be direct drilled.

When asked about his most valuable assets, he replied they were his staff — two fulltime and three casuals.

However, drainage and soil fertility were "huge" assets.

The family was in the sector for the long haul.

His semi-retired father Tom lives on the farm and his three daughters, Esther (13), Freya (11) and Ivy (9), "may all want to be farmers".

The future of the farm would include diversifying to meet the market and exploring new opportunities.

"That’ll be growing new crops — who knows what’s around the corner? There’s a multitude of things we could grow."

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