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Farming Fast Five: Jane Smith

Farming Fast Five: Jane Smith
Jane Smith Supplied

The Farming Fast Five – where we ask farmers five quick questions about agriculture, and what farming means to them. Today we talk to North Otago farmer, environmentalist and Methane Science Accord co-chairperson Jane Smith.

What did your journey into farming look like?

I’m a Ruddennklau from North Otago and grew up on the family farm. I attended Waitaki Girls’ High School, then completed a B.Com Ag (FM) degree at Lincoln, followed by a career in the fertiliser industry and then rural banking before coming back to North Otago to farm. My husband Blair and I were farming a number of small lease blocks in Southland while holding down careers at the same time (Blair was running a rural transport business in Southland), and so this gave us a good footing for further investment in stock, plant and land when we moved to North Otago. It was the work that we did outside our normal jobs that gave us some decent savings to go farming.

Tell us a little bit about your farming operation.

We farm in the hills of Five Forks, 35 km west of Oamaru. We run 9,500 stock units on 1300 hectares – including the Newhaven Perendale stud (producing Perendale, Romdale and Perendale-Texel rams that we sell both here and in Australia) and the Fossil Creek Angus stud (producing Angus bulls, sold at auction in June each year to clients throughout the country). We also run a flock of commercial Perendale ewes.

What challenges have you faced in your farming business, and how have you tackled those challenges?

Challenges and opportunities have gone hand in hand. When we entered farming in 2008 we were faced with high interest rates (higher than those at present but not as high as the 1980s of course), low product prices and drought. We have however set up our farming entity to be as resilient as possible in our harsh climate and our stock are bred to perform no matter what the weather throws at us. We have had some valuable mentors over the past decade of farming – the best advisors are your peers as well as wise farmers that have had the experience over time of the same challenges and are able to put things in perspective.

The largest challenge however is now ahead of us with the looming burden of ill-conceived, inpracticable farming regulation. I spend almost every waking hour outside of my practical on-farm commitments attending meetings, zoom calls and lobbying for a change in direction to the overbearing, draconian regulation that threatens to overwhelm the future of farming as we know it. Our regulators and many of our processing companies seem to have a belief that family farms are able to operate like corporate entities and commit a full-time person to be office-bound yet still run complex farming businesses. This is simply not possible, and will lead to the demise of animal welfare, human welfare, volunteerism, and will stifle environmental innovation and the profitability of our provinces.

There are so many great things and innovation occurring in our sector. The government and local councils need to let us build our own positive trajectory instead of suffocating the life blood out of humble family farming operations.

What has been a major highlight for you in your farming journey?

Working alongside young people in our sector and encouraging them to work hard, remain focused and drive their own pathway forward is a continued highlight.

Another highlight has been seeing the ‘Newhaven Nil-Drench’ programme in our sheep (developed by my parents David and Robyn Ruddenklau over 30 years ago) come to fruition with so many other sheep breeders in the industry struggling with drench -resistance. This remains an industry-leading concept and one that our ram clients are now reaping the benefits of as they are not facing the peril of overwhelming drench resistance in their sheep flocks.

Another highlight is that I was fortunate to be able to recently publish a book on ‘50 Years of the Newhaven Perendale Stud’, which was a great milestone to be involved in.

What advice would you have for the next generation of farmers?

Work hard from day one. Surround yourself with positive people that will tell you the best way to do something, not just the easiest. Open your own door for opportunities, don’t wait for someone to do it for you. Getting ahead in life is not done in a 8 to 5  working day - it is done through extra work and commitment after hours. Keep focused. Save. Invest. Save again.

As told to Claire Inkson