Prize-winning swede crop grown on dream farm in the Styx

Burnbrae owner Tom Waldron displays a swede which helped win the supreme dryland prize in the...
Burnbrae owner Tom Waldron displays a swede which helped win the supreme dryland prize in the 2024 Maniototo Winter Crop Competition. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A swede crop continues to reign supreme in the Styx.

Tom and Julia Waldron bought their 2100ha hill-country sheep and beef farm Burnbrae in the Styx, more than 50km drive southwest of Ranfurly, in 2021.

The purchase realised the couple’s dream of owning a farm in the Maniototo.

Since moving to the Styx, Mr Waldron has entered the Maniototo Winter Crop Competition three times.

His entries this year were two dryland crops, 30ha of swedes and 35ha of kale.

The swede crop won its category for the third consecutive year, and the kale was second.

For the first time, he won the supreme dryland trophy.

His swede-growing method this season included using paddocks out of lucerne, ploughing in autumn and fallowing in winter.

Lime gets gently worked into the paddock and, when the soil temperature is right, Maniototo Contracting owner Ian Hore precision-drills seed.

For the first time since he has grown swedes in the Styx , fertiliser was applied when the seed was sown.

In past year, he applied fertiliser when the crop was established, but that step was removed this season.

Aphids attacked the swedes, reducing yield and his confidence in defending his title.

In hindsight, he would have applied an insecticide earlier, Mr Waldron said. Despite the setback, a good crop was produced.

How crops entered in a competition did depended on whether they received rain at the right time, he said.

Halfbred hoggets had been on the winning swede crop for more than a month.

About 75ha of the farm was under pivot irrigation, including nearly 9ha of fodder beet, which was feeding Angus heifers and bulls.

His neighbours had grown a better fodder beet crop on dryland this season, so how best to utilise his irrigation was a work in progress, he said.

Another 50ha of kale was grown on Burnbrae to finish lambs in summer.

The introduction of the summer kale crop was to be able to carry lambs.

In previous seasons, a lack of summer feed forced them to take lower prices than they would have liked at their annual on-farm lamb sale.

"We wanted a bit more control. It has increased our average sale price by about $30, which made a big difference to the bottom line."

Mr Waldron was brought up on a sheep and beef farm in Becks in Central Otago.

He was managing a farm in the district when he married Julia Sinclair, of Ranfurly, in 1995.

The newlyweds moved to Australia and stayed for seven years.

Their first three years were spent working on a merino stud in New South Wales, which was a fascinating experience, he said.

They then worked on a merino sheep farm in Victoria and entered an equity partnership, owning the livestock and plant.

"That was our start and we did really well out of that," he said.

When the partnership was launched, they owned 12,000 merino sheep.

On exiting, the flock had increased to 20,000.

They returned to New Zealand with their infant son Angus in 2004, and managed a 5800ha Lone Star Farms property in the Hakataramea Valley.

"It was a big learning curve but I really enjoyed it," he said.

They left Lone Star after seven years and bought their first farm, a 109ha property near Oamaru, and worked in project management and rural real estate.

"That was a real turning point — we realised the only way to get ahead was not to be working for wages," he said.

An offer on their property was too good to refuse and prompted their next move.

The plan was to buy a bigger sheep and beef farm in New Zealand but the dairy boom spiked farm prices, so they searched in Australia and bought a farm in Victoria in 2013.

Farmland in the state cost about $3000 an acre when they left Australia in 2004.

When they returned nearly a decade later, the price had dropped to $1800 an acre.

They now have three primary school-age boys, including Liam and Conor.

The family settled in the community but the plan had always been to return to New Zealand.

"Home is home and we always felt a strong pull back to Central Otago."

When they returned from Australia in the early 2020s they searched for a farm to buy in the Styx.

An equity partnership was launched with Burnbrae owner Eric Laurenson, of Fairlie, in 2020.

The Laurenson family had owned the farm for nearly a century.

"We absolutely loved it. It is a magnificent place which has been farmed well and is in good heart with good stock."

They bought Burnbrae outright in 2021.

Burnbrae faced the northeast, and its easy contour ran to about 900m above sea level.

Snow cleared quickly and its soil held moisture.

He believed the Styx was an underrated place to farm.

"Stock do really well up here. It is a very kind place," he said.

On Burnbrae, a Romney ram was put over merino ewes to produce a first-cross halfbred ram.

"We use them internally in our flock as a hogget, and we sell them in the spring as a two-tooth ram — that works pretty well for us."

Burnbrae stud sold about 100 halfbred rams by private treaty a year.

A goal was to expand the operation and one day include their sons.

Mr Waldron diversified the business by launching direct-drilling business Waldron Ag about a year ago.

The red meat sector had been in a better place, but he remained optimistic prices were cyclical and would bounce back.

"Out of adversity, there is always opportunity," he said.

Maniototo Lions Club member John Mulholland, of Ranfurly, said the winter feed competition raised about $40,000.

"We had about 63 entries, which we were pleased about given the really dry season we had."

The money raised would be given to the Otago Rescue Helicopter and help fund the refurbishment of a kitchen at Maniototo Health Services and the Ranfurly Volunteer Fire Brigade buy a rapid response vehicle.

The club had decided to top up the payments to the hospital and the fire brigade from its reserves to bring them up to $20,000 for the hospital and $17,000 for the fire brigade.


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