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The Farming Fast Five

The Farming Fast Five

We ask a farmer five quick questions about farming, and what agriculture means to them. Here is what Deer Industry NZ chairperson Mandy Bell had to say.

  1. What did your journey into farming look like?

I grew up on a farm in Mid Canterbury at Lincoln Hills, Mount Somers. I come from a farming family, and, like so many farming kids, I worked where needed; I spent my time shearing, baling hay and carting, and pitch forking hay off fences after a Norwester. The farm ran beef and sheep, with top commercial Coopworth ewes and excellent farming practices. I learned a lot amount from my parents, Richard and Wendy Batchelor.

I’ve always been interested in farming and thinking ‘big-picture’ when it comes to the connections between animals, land health, and business. It inspired me to work as a vet in the city and country, before working in our family business with my husband, Jerry. We supplied processed vegetables to North Island corporates, such as Air NZ and hospitals.

My family is linked to the primary sector in several ways – on the land farming; in rural service with my grandfather, Jim Ritchie, who was involved in National Mortgage; uncles in Fed Farmers and Ministry of Ag; and country doctors several generations back. I‘m inspired by my extended family, parents, and my children. I’m an avid proponent of leadership, and I follow the likes of Ray Dalio, who has some interesting business and life principles.

2. Tell us a little bit about your farming operation

The Bell family has owned Criffel since the 1960s, almost 60 years. Criffel Station has been converted into one of New Zealand’s largest deer and breeding stud farms in 1993 by Jerry and Mandy Bell. It runs as a family business with a strong focus on sustainable profitability and looking after the land for future generations. 6,000 deer live at Criffel, along with 120 cattle and 2,000 lambs through the winter months.

Life at Criffel has changed significantly in the last 15 years and continues to evolve. Deer farming and the production of venison and velvet, are our main farming operations. Recent projects include water quality research, One Health reviews, and seed production. We also offer customised tours and experiences, glamping and cottage stays, and allow for venue hire.

Criffel runs 11,000 stock units on 2000ha near Wanaka. There is a balance of hill country and irrigated intensively farmed flats, developed to a high standard and with a high health status and high production herd.

The total property: 2000ha, 315ha irrigated flats, 38ha of dryland flat, 800ha of oversown hill, 600ha of unimproved hill, 80 ha of cultivated hill, elevation 300m to 1200 above sea level, rainfall 682mm.

The property now carries 1800 MA & R2 hinds, Criffel-born and purchased R1 mixed-sex weaners, breeding stags, and velvet stags. Beef and lamb finishing as seasons allow.  The hinds spend most of the year in the hill blocks, with weaning in late February. The young stock is grazed on the irrigated improved pastures with the first animals going to the slaughter plants from September to meet the chilled market. All finishers are off the property by March at 16 months of age.

Criffel has several types of high-producing ryegrass cultivars on the flats under irrigation, plus kale, turnips and rape to provide finishing feed for weaner deer as a priority class. The main irrigation system is gravity K-line, plus a Southern Cross gun, and a diesel pump. Over 300ha of irrigated flats is used intensively all year round.

Hinds are mated to European and elk stags. All of these progenies come out of Eastern European hinds selected into mating mobs on age, conformation, early calving ability and temperament, with the best hinds going to the Red stags

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

As expected, there’s been several challenges: farming in a region that has a high number of visitors and associated visibility of farming business; TB in Pisa range over many years; Johnes Disease, and unpredictable financial cycles.

To tackle said challenges, it’s important to recognise they exist first. Then, you can work as a team to mitigate and manage the problem. Try to think ahead and anticipate what’s coming instead of having an ad-hoc approach to problem-solving.

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

● Growing up as a child at Lincoln Hills and having our children grow up on the land

● Since my earlier years in the primary sector, I learned to take a holistic approach to farming and the land. We’ve seen this implemented through the framework One Health, and by integrating Nature-based Solutions into our practice.

● Being part of the deer industry for over 30 years; an innovative, agile industry.

● WAI Wanaka, leading proactive rural, tourism and urban community-led solutions in focusing on water quality

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

● Approach the future as landowners and guardians of the land, as our businesses will look very different from today.

● Keep learning and adapting. Many of the challenges have existing solutions.

● Use planning and experts/diversity of thought in creating business direction.

● Embrace radical transparency, i.e. sharing knowledge and info.

● Embrace technology.

● Work collaboratively; solutions are easier, and more cost-effective when shared.

● Do what you love with people that you enjoy being with.