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FIELD NOTE:

Maximising Soil Health & Yields at Mt Albert Station: A Case Study

How Mt Albert Station improved their soil structure and yields

Where the Rivers Rule

As seen in the Rural Guardian, Sept 23, by Claire Inkson

As farmers, we make decisions every day to maximise returns now and in the future. Taking the same smart, strategic thinking to soil makes a world of difference.

Scott and Rachel Paterson have managed Mt Albert Station, a 12,500-hectare property at the headwaters of Lake Wanaka near Makarora, for fifteen years. During that time, they have considerably improved the farming operation, covering everything from genetics and pasture management to water quality and biodiversity.

Learning to work with the land and the climate has been crucial to the station’s success. “The biggest challenge is the rivers; they definitely rule your life,” Scott Paterson says. Four major waterways run through the property – the Makarora River, Wilkin River, Young River and Albert Burn River.

High annual rainfall can mean the station has a tendency for low land flooding, which Paterson says is determined by the lake levels. “If the lake is nice and low, the rivers get away quickly.” Higher lake levels coupled with the annual 2.5-metre rainfall can create challenges, which has meant the family jet boat becomes the farm vehicle of choice.

“The rivers can be challenging to get back and forth across. “We spend a fair bit of time in the jet boat going up rivers and checking stock. “Then everyone wants to go jet boating at the weekend, and by then, we’ve usually had enough,” Paterson laughs.

The Patersons are members of The Wanaka Catchment Group, which was established in 2017 to respond to the desire of local farmers to learn more about their farmland’s effect on water quality and what they can do to protect their local water bodies, including Lake Wanaka.

Rachel is heavily involved in the group and sits on the catchment board. “The challenge is engaging the wider community so everyone has a better understanding of the rural impacts on our waterways and what we have been doing and are doing about it,” Paterson said.

The Patersons have fenced off a considerable stretch of the waterways running through the property and planted around 15 hectares in natives. Paterson says having policies that are sustainable and suit the environment is vital. “We have always tried to improve how the business is run and make it more sustainable.

“We were looking at these options well before the regulations came through, and it was publicised.” The operation is 50/50 sheep and beef, running Headwaters ewes and Angus cattle, which are supplied to Anzco and Alliance.

“The owner has invested heavily in Angus genetics over the last seven years, leading to increased fertility, carcass weights, and eating quality.” Angus’ genetics are from Te Mania, Taimate, Twin Oaks and Stern, with the station previously running Herefords.

Perendales have been replaced by Headwater ewes, bred with high-fat levels, to thrive in the high country with high fertility and resilience. 

The winter season is long at Mt Albert Station, averaging around 120 days, which means late spring growth.

“We put 100 hectares in of HT swedes and kale to carry capital stock, ewes, replacement hoggets, and steer and heifer calves through the winter. “It’s all supplemented with silage and bailage, which is also grown on-farm.”

The switch to Optimise fertiliser has suited the high rainfall on the property. Optimise is fine lime pressed into a pellet form for ease of transport and application, manufactured in New Zealand by CP Lime.

Paterson trialled the product on 140 hectares and was impressed with the results and the level of service. “We initially changed to Optimise because of the people behind the product,” Paterson explains.

“It’s helped improve our soil structure, and our soils are healthier. “We are getting higher yields and quality in our pastures and brassicas.”

The challenge with Mt Albert Station is that no day is the same, but Paterson has found that being organised, watching the weather patterns and respecting the environment and the waterways have been key to a successful farm business.

“It’s about being proactive, not reactive, and doing the basics and doing them right.”

Healthy soil sings in harmony with its environment. With Optimise pelletised fertiliser, boost the nutrients you have, replenish what's missing, and adapt to your unique weather and soil conditions. Ready to tune in your soil? Call Simon or Sarah on 0508 678 464 for more information or to schedule a soil test.

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