Future proofing through regeneration

Best farming practices for land and stock has seen a summer dry Central Hawke's Bay farm thrive on diversity. Using their land effectively has been an Ennor family cornerstone since Rae Ennor purchased Ranui Farm back in 1948.

 

Over the decades the Ennors have fine-tuned their regenerative approach with a focus on happy and healthy stock and matching land type to land use. This has seen them pick up a Hawke's Bay Forester of the Year award and diversify into a range of farm-related adventure sports.

Rae Ennor, a returned serviceman, purchased the 500-acre Ranui block from his wife's family after the larger farm was split and sold off among relatives after World War II.

 

Increasing the land's capacity

Back then, two thirds of the farm was in scrub and what land was available was farmed in a limited capacity. Rae and his son Rob spent years cutting scrub and developing the farm and were astute enough to leave shelter in paddocks and on steep faces.

Rob spent his school holidays clearing scrub at Ranui and in 1954 went full-time. That did not mean any wages though – the farm was not developed enough to support more than one family or pay Rob a wage, so in the early days he went shearing to earn money.

Rob and his wife Jean eventually took over the farm and continued to develop the property. In 2001 the family had the opportunity to buy a neighbouring block, giving them an additional 500 acres and taking the total holding to 1,000 acres, or 404 hectares.

By this time the Ranui block had been mostly cleared of scrub but the intensive workload continued with the new block requiring a lot of fencing, tracks and lanes.

The bigger block presented an opportunity for Rob and Jean's son Trev, one of six children, to come home. Trev says his parents had always encouraged their children to have a trade and he spent 18 years as a plumber in Hawke's Bay. "I was in my late thirties with a couple of young kids and the attraction of farming and a lifestyle change was enough to bring me home."

While Trev has taken on a management position, the farm is still a family affair. One of the highlights of his job is working alongside his Dad, who at 82 goes from daylight to dusk. Along with Trev's 80-year-old Mum, they are still very involved with farm life.

 

Planting provides balance

The Ennors have always farmed with a focus on looking after their land and making the most of the property. Trev says his Mum and younger brother Martin have a real passion for landscaping and trees which was the catalyst for planting to improve the farm and stop erosion.

"We began with gully retirement and enrichment planting of natives on steep faces where we were losing stock. For us it has always been about using the best land for our sheep and cattle, with the rest for woodlots and tree planting." This effective land use has enhanced the natural environment at Ranui. "It's about making the most of the land we have got. The planting has seen 70ha of our 404ha property planted or retired."

The remaining 330ha of rolling to hilly land is grazed. Landscaping has included 17–18ha of radiata pine planted between 1994–96, which was harvested last summer. Trev says despite the 20-plus year wait between planting and harvesting it has been worthwhile and this winter they will plant pines again, increasing the plantation to 20ha. A total of 13ha of non-productive woodlots are planted in kanuka and natives, which includes a 3-hectare kanuka block that was fenced off in 2003. "What was an ugly gully and hard to get stock out of is now beautiful, with massively tall kanuka trees and other native plantings that attract bird life. We think of it as a memorial to our grandparents and the eventual aim is to apply to the QEII National Trust to protect the block," Trev says.

There is also a managed plantation of 400 poplar stems which the Ennors hope to market as timber in 10–15 years, a eucalyptus block and a macrocarpa woodlot which will eventually be used for firewood. Other plantings include acacia, C. lusitanica, redwoods and black walnut.In 2016 the farm took out the Pan Pac Hawke's Bay Farm Forester of the Year award. Trev says the award recognised the Ennors as farm foresters and the work they were doing around woodlots, riparian fencing and planting, and protecting waterways.

"Our work has always been a balance between wanting the best for our land and our stock, while still running a business. "The planting gave us the best of both worlds by providing an extra income while regenerating native bush, protecting our waterways as well as giving fodder and shelter for our stock."

 

No intensive farming here

The summer dry farm, which is 17km south of Waipukurau, receives an average annual rainfall of 1,000ml with limited rainfall between December and March. "Because we have fenced off a lot of the land where there are creeks and dams, an ongoing project is installing new troughs and we are fortunate to have a reliable spring source that is piped and irrigated," Trev says.

Ranui carries around 1,200 Romney breeding ewes which are put to terminal sire rams and 60–70 trading cattle. In another game-changing move, the Ennors dropped around 600 breeding ewes in favour of dairy grazers.

"We do miss not having our own breeding hoggets coming through, but we buy in lamb replacement ewes or buy early and put the ram to them. "It's been a learning curve and looking after dairy stock requires a different management approach to looking after trading cattle. There is a bit of work weighing them and drenching but over a 12-month period they are a lot less work than sheep," he reckons.

Having made the switch 7 years ago, Trev says the contract dairy grazers have given them "better returns". The farm peaked carrying 250 dairy weaner heifers and R2 heifers. When it comes to stocking rates though, Trev is cautious. "We have been bitten before and our aim now is quality, not quantity. We are not intensive farmers which is probably bucking the trend, but we are comfortable with it."

Creating a network of lanes has made it easier to work with stock and placed less pressure when shifting animals. When applying fertiliser they use Hatuma's lime and dicalcic phosphate fertiliser to cover as much of the farm as possible and a very conservative use of nitrogen. "We don't go over the top and prefer to use lime and phosphates," Trev says.

The Ranui soil type is 80 percent loamy soil, 10 percent sandy loam and 10 percent clay. "Back in the early days my grandfather and father planted willows and poplars in recognition of the clay soil type which is always moving, shrinking and swelling. A fencepost won't stand straight in clay for long and the planting helped stabilise the land and provided shade, shelter and food for the stock. "As well as erosion-control plantings we also utilise the pollarding pruning system, where the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting growth of a dense head of foliage which enables us to provide fodder to feed livestock," he says.

Cropping is part of the Ranui summer-proofing plan, with around 12ha of brassica feed grown and used to fatten dairy stock and lambs. The ground is then planted back into a short-rotation annual grass in the winter. Plantain and clover-fattening pasture also cover 12ha.

 

A diverse public playground

Trev says the reason the farm opened its gates to the public was, again, a family thing. "Mum started Scallywags Childcare in Waipukurau in 1988 as she loves children and families. I did a lot of cycling, running and adventure sport so when I came home all I could see was a 1,000-acre playground! Developing adventure opportunities here was a combination of these things. It incorporates our outstanding landscape, native scenery and farm life," he enthuses.

The Ranui Farm Park experience gives visitors an adventure on a working farm, complete with breathtaking views. The property features a purpose-built mountain bike park which winds its way through woodlots, rolling hillsides and bush plantings. A block of eucalyptus trees, which was originally planted for oil extraction, has provided an ideal bike track. The farm features five tracks and miles of unpaved trails for avid bikers and casual riders alike. The park holds regular track training days in the weekends and hosts special events such as the Dry Triathlon and annual Adventure Race. The park has become well known for its popular Sunday Fundays, where families can enjoy scenic walks across the farm, a large playground, 70-metre water slide, 80-metre flying fox, archery, paintball targets, and a golf pitch-and-chip.

The Ennors have taken their tourism opportunity to the next level by offering a rustic homestyle café featuring great coffee and baking from Grandma Jean Ennor. The café is the former home of Trev's grandparents and also operates as a bed and breakfast.

Trev believes opening the farm to adventure tourism helps to bridge the rural/urban divide and encourages more people to respect the land.

"We just love seeing kids and families outdoors, away from screens and devices and making the most of active time together. "We also invite kids and schools for farm experiences and school camps. My brother Russell has taken a couple of years off from teaching to promote the farm park to schools. Our aim is to educate kids about farming – we take them to the woolshed to see a sheep being shorn, we explain about drenching, meat and wool. It's incredible what these kids don't know about farming and animals," Trev says.

Visitor safety on the farm is a priority for the Ennors. "We are always working towards the perfect status and that includes upgrading signage and ensuring everyone signs a form when they come onto the property and takes part in the safety talks. "We do the best we can, and our visitors know they need to assume responsibility as well." The adventure side of the business is growing and last year they recorded 2,000 visitors. Eventually, Trevor thinks this facet has the potential to be a standalone business.

 

Regenerative practices reflect passion

Trev says that the whole family has a real passion for what they are doing. He believes they have been able to achieve through a combination of land knowledge and wanting their stock to be happy.

"It all goes hand in hand. The regeneration planting is linked to the way the animals are treated and the result is stock that are comfortable with water, shade and shelter. "Even back in my grandfather's early days on the farm it was about getting the balance right and laying a foundation for the future. We are fortunate he was knowledgeable enough to plant trees for a purpose, leaving natives in gullies and only clearing the better land.

"I still love to go out the back of the farm, look around at how nice it is and take a big breath," he says. "There is a certain irony for my father, who spent a lot of his youth cutting down manuka scrub, that we are now replanting some of the land that he cleared!

"Hopefully our practices are future-proofing the land so generations to come can enjoy it just as we have been able to."