"We have gone back to the textbook and reminded ourselves that precision is the key to performance.”

Mark and Christine Burnett


Understanding the reasons why their farm produces in a certain way is integral to the success of Shareholders Mark and Christine Burnett. Just inland from the coast near Tauranga Bay at Westport, fields of lush grass are testament to the hard work that the Burnetts have put into their farm.

Mark has been a dairy farmer for as long as he can remember. As an eight-year-old, he helped out with the milking on his parent’s farm, and as soon as he could leave school he became a sharemilker. Mark and Christine started sharemilking together in the Rai Valley, near Nelson, and were married after a job required a ‘married couple’ to run the farm. They have never looked back and have happily milked cows for 33 years.

In 1995, they looked at how to get a foot on the farming ladder and invest in their own farm. Farm prices in the Tasman District were relatively high as most properties were already developed. When they came across their current farm on the market, they immediately saw its potential.

An undeveloped section, in a good farming climate – they told their friends that they were moving to the ‘land of milk and honey’. Life on the Coast has not always been the ‘land of milk and honey’ for Mark and Christine, but it is full of learning and finding new ways to develop and increase the value of their farm. Between 1996 and 2005, the Burnetts developed their property from a wet farm into a dry farm, while continuing to milk their cows. By sectioning the farm into different plots, they were able to move from plot to plot and develop their farm while other parts remained in dairy production.

Innovation and constantly questioning results is always at the front of their minds when it comes to increasing productivity of crops and cows. The farm has been involved in different scientific trials, including: determining the best time to spray for porina moth caterpillars; various grass pasture trials; and an assessment of the effect of soil flipping on carbon capture and storage by the soil team at AgResearch.

As every farm is different, Mark thinks the more you can learn from specialists and scientists the better. This ‘try it and test it’ mentality has moved into other areas of farm production.

Recently, Mark has run a farm-wide experiment to understand the levels of fertiliser needed to increase his grass growth. After seeing a noticeable difference in grass growth in different parts of the farm, Mark was persuaded by his fertiliser representative to complete a soil test on the whole property.

“I had always thought that if the grass wasn’t performing that I should give it a little more fertiliser and see how it goes. When I tested the soil I realised that some areas in the farm were way over fertilised, while others were under,” said Mark.

With help from his Ravensdown representative, Mark mapped every paddock to determine the quantities of fertiliser needed, or whether it could be mined for nutrients. This resulted in cost savings throughout the farm as he now knows exactly how much fertiliser he needs (and it is usually less than he thinks). There have also been significant environmental benefits. Applying only the required amount of fertiliser on the farm means it can be absorbed and no longer leeches into waterways.

Mark’s daughter Melissa also plays an important role in understanding the farm. Melissa, who is completing her Primary ITO farm management training, is always reminding Mark to go back to basics and collect data comparison.

“I used to just go out, sight the paddocks and think ‘oh yip that paddock has had a bit of growth.’ Now Melissa has me out there measuring grass so I know exactly what is happening on each paddock, and can make the necessary adjustments,” said Mark. After years of testing, Mark can now pull out a file and tell you exactly what is happening on each paddock, and how fertiliser inputs affect grass growth.

“In the past three years I have been able to balance out the levels throughout the whole farm, increasing the overall grass productivity. We have gone back to the textbook and reminded ourselves that precision is the key to performance.” Mark hasn’t finished his experimenting. He is currently working with AgResearch to better understand the impact of soil flipping on the carbon make up of soil.

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