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The Allens own a 360ha sheep and beef farm at Ashburton Forks, near Mt Somers, in Mid Canterbury.
They run 1500 breeding ewes (either cross breeds or half breeds).
The half breeds are Merino and Romney, which produce softer wool at around the 23 to 24 micron range.
It makes a “big difference between getting $2.50 per kilogram to $13 to $14 per kilogram for the half breed wool. And I know which one I’d rather spend all my time in the sheds looking after”, Mr Allen said.
The Allens bought the property in 1994.
It was sold to them as ‘‘900 acres’’, the yields noted in bushels and the fertiliser requirements in hundredweight. And they have made a few changes in the past 25 years to bring it into the 21st century.
There is an upgraded irrigation system; they now have one lateral and five centre pivots.
And their work is made just that bit easier with reliable connectivity.
They use it to control the water supply and to turn on and off the irrigation system, all from the touch of a button on a mobile phone. They also use it to check moisture levels in the soil and nitrate levels in one of their on farm wells.
“Stop and start pumps, alter the flow-rate for the amount of water we are putting on per hectare, ...it’s all [via] cellphones. It’s important to be connected.’’
The recent addition of a nitrate sensing probe into one of their wells measures, in real time, what the nitrate level is in the well.
“We’ve got shallow aquifers, two and a half to three metres deep, so what we’re doing does affect the water, but at least we’ll build up a story of what’s going on with our activities.”
The readings will help them plan their farm operation; where they plant their winter feed, and the crops they should grow.
“We use precision irrigation, scheduling water, water monitoring, probes, physical assessments and relying on electronic systems to perform.”
“We’ve got 10 different soil types so we’ve got some of the finest soils you can imagine in Canterbury to some of the worst challenges.
“And they change over the length of this house. What’s good in one part may not be in another.”
The property is fully irrigated and has had a long term irrigation consent off the Ashburton River since the early 1980s.
It was one of the earlier adopters of irrigation. Over the time it has changed from border dyking to pivot irrigation. The gravity-fed option was not efficient enough.
Mr Allen says just a third of the farm was covered by border dyking, but the water rights should have been enough to do all of the farm. And it was only 70% reliable.
“We’re using the same volume of water we were using, over all of the farm now with as much reliability as we can.”
Even with the reliable source, the property has its own water storage pond which spans 6.5ha.
It holds 150,000cu m of water and is 2.5m deep.
“That’s enough water for 18-20 days over the whole of the property,” Mr Allen said.
He spends a fair amount of time off-farm due to his commitment to the National Board of Federated Farmers and advocating for farmers, which he is passionate about.
And he has some pretty big policy responsibilities with water, the environment and biodiversity.
“I’m a very strong advocate of good management practices,” Mr Allen said.
“It’s a national discussion and a Canterbury incentive discussion about getting everyone doing good management practice.”
He says a classic example was not using the same level of fertiliser used on the land 60 years ago. It was unlikely to need it.
He added testing the paddocks, and getting a programme for its needs, meant they were getting the right levels of fertiliser they needed at optimum levels.
The other consideration was irrigation and it meant knowing your soil types, being aware of moisture deficits, and the need to use water such as when it was required to activate ingredients in added chemicals.
“Make sure you’ve got a need for turning it on.”
“We just want to make sure we’re being efficient at what we do,” he says.