BEST IN SHOW

Originally the “worst piece of land” in the district, the Galletly family have worked on their Waiau farm for generations, turning it around to win the 2018 Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Award.

Humble winners

Four-week-old Harry Galletly gives a big yawn. Opening his eyes, he has a quick blurry look at what’s happening around him in the family lounge room, then snuggles back into his dad Hamish’s arms. He is oblivious to the fact that the Galletly family, from Waiau in North Canterbury, has just won the prestigious Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Award for 2018.

Hamish and his wife, Debby farm in partnership with Hamish’s parents, Sue and Angus, at Hossack Downs – a 2300-hectare sheep and beef property. The award celebrates suppliers of lamb, beef, deer and bull from across the country. It is judged from a list of regional winners, and on many different criteria: the past 12 months of stock supplied, on-farm assessment in areas of business goals and strategy, a food challenge, financial management, and environmental sustainability practices – to name just a few.

When MiNDFOOD arrived at their property, the Galletlys were still in shock. “I still can’t believe we won,” says Angus. “We just never thought we would,” his wife, Sue adds. This close-knit family, where everyone finishes each other’s sentences when talking about the property, is both humble and, as Hamish says, “completely blown away by the win”.

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From left: Gus, Hamish, Sophie and Debby with baby Harry.

Breaking in a tough piece of land

After World War II, Angus’s parents moved to the district and his mother drew the marble from the local ballot, for one of eight farms available. “She chose the worst piece of land,” Angus says. His father, a truck driver, and mother, from a farming family, were both in the armed services – his father in the army and his mother in the air force – and they returned home to break in “a very tough piece of land”.

As we stand in Angus and Sue’s hallway today, a large map clearly shows the eight different pieces of land across the North Canterbury landscape. “Eventually the farm came right, after much struggle,” Angus says. “We are the only family left from the original eight farms – the other farming families sold up over time. In my parents’ era they ran about 1000 stock units. It’s completely different now – we run over 10,000 – you need scale to survive in farming these days.”

Angus’s brother, Donald, now farms the original ballot farm, while Angus, Sue, Hamish and Debby own two neighbouring ballot farms at Hossack Downs. The Galletly property is now a combination of steep native hill country and low flat blocks – a perfect mix for farming. Hamish says that working with his dad is a great opportunity: “I have a good working relationship with Dad, and I’m lucky to be given this opportunity.” Hamish looks after the stock and runs the farm, while Angus does the tractor work. With an older sister, Anna – a clinical psychologist who is studying medicine in Dunedin – and a younger brother, Simon – a mechanic based in Queensland – succession planning and ‘future proofing’ has been discussed for some years. “Succession is such a hot topic with my mates,” Hamish says. “Dad would talk to the three of us each Christmas about what he was thinking. The home block is still home, and in the future that is where everyone’s kids can come home during holidays and visit.”

Angus says succession planning wasn’t so tricky for his family, as his two other children weren’t interested in farming. “My daughter is an academic and my other son suffers terrible hay fever when he’s here. We started talking succession planning over 14 years ago. There is land reserved for both Anna and Simon that they will inherit over time, and Hamish, Debby, Sue and I have our partnership with Hossack Downs.”

Given the family has now been farming for three generations – and with Hamish and Debby’s children, Harry, Gus and Sophie making up the fourth generation – Hamish says that winning the Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Award made them feel they were doing something right.

The future of farming

“It’s exciting times to be in farming,” he says. “With current production prices and investment going back into the farm, it’s pretty cool to see things happening, we aren’t just talking about it.”

Hamish believes it will be technology and the environment that will continue to have a big impact on the farm. “I take pride in our stock,” he says. “I’m proud of our ewes and lambs, they are looking good, and we care for our stock. We are future-proofing it for future generations.”

With an environmental plan in place, the relationship the Galletlys have with Jack Frizzell, their Livestock Rep from Silver Fern Farms, has led to their stock being tailored to producing cattle and sheep for quality reserve beef and lamb programmes.

“This high standard is backed by sound farm systems,” says Hamish. “I call Jack and we work through timings and delivery of stock, making sure the consumer is getting a great quality product. Our Silver Fern Farms relationship is paramount.”

Angus agrees, and says that they are proud of what they are achieving and producing with their team. “Leon our farm worker does a great job – we have a strong team in place.”

Both Hamish and Angus agree it is the consumer that has the final say. “With Silver Fern Farms and the Plate to Pasture strategy, we have a much bigger interest in what is going onto our plates, what sort of cuts – and the consumer wants to know where their food has come from,” says Angus.

"The consumer wants to know where their food has come from." - Angus Galletly

Our beef and lamb is naturally raised and grass-fed – we never use feed lots or grain, and there is no growth hormones like other countries use.”

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Always learning

Things have changed a lot from the family’s early days of farming. From adopting a sustainable farm environmental plan, to visiting field days and learning about best farming practices, to the introduction of new pastures offering longevity and better growth rates, trialling pasture rotation and break-feeding away from water zones, “gaining all this information and using it where we can, it is producing results,” Hamish says.

Angus says that back when he and his brother started farming, it was a very different time. “If it moved, we shot it; if it grew, we chopped it down – we went ahead and just did it.” But thankfully those days have gone, he says. These days, it’s about sustainable farming. Cattle leave before a second winter so their heavy hooves don’t have a major impact on the land.

Hamish also works with the Red Meat Profit Partnership group – a government research initiative where seven farmers come together with a facilitator with goals in place. “It’s not just discussing ideas,” says Hamish, “it’s an action group, and about implementation. We are looking at legumes and what drives growth rates so we don’t use nitrate in a bag, but create better pasture production. Legumes fix nitrate in the soil.”

As well as the facilitator passing on knowledge to the group, Hamish benefits from chats among his mates. “We thrash out ideas,” says Hamish. “It’s a great time to be farming.”

The Galletlys in the community

The family is very much involved with their local community. Sue has been chairman of the local Citizens Group and post-earthquake support groups, and Hamish and Angus have worked with irrigation committees, and the local rugby and golf club. There’s a ‘can-do’ attitude within this family, and they deserve the Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture award.

This year Angus is president of the local A&P show. “The last two years the large tent was filled with earthquake stuff, we want to move on and do something different,” he says. “Do you think MiNDFOOD would be interested in getting involved?” he asks. It’s hard to say no to his enthusiasm. See you at the show.

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This article was brought to you by MiNDFOOD in partnership with Silver Fern Farms. Words by Michael McHugh, Photography by Kristian Frires