Tuesday, 28 February 2017 08:55

Dairy conversion is a confidence vote

Written by  Nigel Malthus
Peter Schouten. Peter Schouten.

A new dairy conversion is a vote of confidence in the dairy industry by farmer Peter Schouten, of Swannanoa, North Canterbury.

Schouten bought the 191ha dryland sheep farm on South Eyre Road about 18 months ago and set about converting it to complement his existing 382ha dairy farm about 6km down the road.

The conversion, operational since the end of October last year, was ‘launched’ at an open day in mid-February organised by the main contractors, Rural Building Solutions and DeLaval, to thank everyone involved in the project.

When the farm came up for sale in the middle of the dairy price downturn it looked like it could be “a bit much to chew off” but it also looked like the sort of farm they knew would not come up again, Schouten says.

He and his wife Kristy wanted their children, Emma (3) and Ben (9 mths), to grow up on a farm.

“We live and breathe dairy,” he says.

Schouten is philosophical about the dairy price fluctuations, but says they put aside their money when they could.

“Really, after the $8.30 payout nobody should’ve been nervous about the payout that followed the year after, because we should’ve been able to put enough aside to suck up the next year.

“It’s been harder for some than for others because of the big shiny boats and the baches, and the big trucks pulling the boats and what-not.

“But that’s their prerogative and their problem, too, to some degree. What we did at the time was pay off more of our loan than was asked of us.”

Schouten now has about 1900 milking cows and hopes to reach close to 2000. Running the two farms in tandem allows him to milk year-round with autumn and spring calving mobs while still being able to shut down each shed regularly, which he feels is important for preparation and maintenance and for staff time off. With several hundred hectares of further leased land in support, the operation is self-sufficient in feed.

The Schouten family has been farming in the area since immigrating from the Netherlands about 17 years ago. Peter’s parents, Aad and Marja Schouten, who were already dairying in Holland, bought a mixed stocking farm on South

Eyre Road and arranged to have it converted to dairy even before they arrived in the country.

Added to and developed over the years, that farm was split between Peter and his brother Arjen when they bought out their parents six and a half years ago.

Peter Schouten’s new farm has a 60-bail rotary milking shed, with state-of-the-art automation covering “pretty much everything”. Though “we still have to put the cups on the cows,” he says.

Rural Building Solutions built the shed, yards and silage bunkers. DeLaval supplied the milking plant and associated automation including autodraft, and milk metering to detect problems such as blood in the milk.

“Because of the milk volume it will keep track of what cows get fed, and what they should have been producing, and why they’re not doing it,” he says.

He says the holding yard and feed pad were both oversized for the expected herd sizes but it increased ease and efficiency. “It means the last heifer doesn’t get pushed around by the old girls for a spot.”

The yards also has greenwashing, which reduces fresh water usage by using recycled effluent water for washing down. Schouten says the yards can be flooded, together or separately, at the touch of a button, with the wash collected in a sump then sent to a slope screen with no moving parts – “nice because it means it can’t break” – to remove the solids.

It is then stored for re-use in a flexible bladder rather than an open pond, to prevent nitrogen loss and smell problems.

Swannanoa is increasingly becoming a dormitory suburb of Christchurch, with many lifestyle blocks in the area and a new subdivision being established only 2km from the farm. Schouten says the bladder solution is worth the extra cost, to pre-empt smell complaints.

“It’s not the cheapest way of doing it but we think it’s a way forward. When you make the first investment it’s cheaper than when you have to reinvest.”

The greenwash system was provided by GEA.

“The cool thing about this is that these companies DeLaval and GEA are in true opposition to each other. But they got on so well throughout the entire project. It was awesome to see.”

Schouten also pays tribute to his farming and environmental advisers who helped him convert a “barren wasteland” with no water or nutrient budget. He says the greenwash system, like the irrigation system, “ticks the environmental boxes”.

The property is irrigated by Irrigate-IQ variable rate pivots installed by PGG Wrightson. With soil moisture monitoring in place, Schouten expects the system to become ever more subtle and precise in delivering water only when and where it is needed.

“We will get to know the farm and we will identify areas that stay damp longer. I can pretty much write my name on the paddock in water. That’s the beautiful part of it.”


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