Home Away From Home

Hosting an Argentinian AFS student turned out to be life changing for Grant and Ele Ludemann.

Bruno Rossi was only 15 when he entered the North Otago farming couple’s lives nearly 25 years ago. However, his arrival was transformative and sparked a relationship that has seen the Ludemanns visit Argentina 10 times and Bruno’s family visit New Zealand.

“There’s a huge element of luck in these relationships, we struck the jackpot and his family is now our family,” Ele says.

The Ludemanns had lost two sons to genetic disorders and with their daughter Jane left an only child, the idea of hosting an international student appealed.

 

Bruno, a high school student while with the Ludemanns, arrived in New Zealand with an English vocabulary of six words – please, thank you, rugby and All Blacks. Ele recalls he had been with them for about 3 months when you could suddenly see a light go on as he began to grasp the language.

Bruno’s warm and engaging nature won the Ludemanns over, as did his acceptance of the differences between the two countries. Back in Argentina, Bruno’s parents are doctors. They own a farm near Baiha Blanca, which had belonged to Bruno’s maternal grandparents. The Rossi family also lease and own farms near their home in Pergamino on the Pampas, the fertile South American lowlands, 3 hours west of Buenos Aires.

“Think Canterbury without mountains and kilometre after kilometre of deep, rich soil,” Ele says.

The highly productive land is predominantly cropped with around 60 percent in the profitable soya crop, 20 percent in corn and 20 percent in wheat. Beef cattle graze the wetter, less productive country and sheep are a rare sight.

The couple say dairying is mainly for the domestic market and their top farms are equal to New Zealand’s. Despite the Ludemanns’ passion for the country, they are saddened by the political instability, high interest rates and high inflation which have left their marks.

Argentina is 10 times the size of New Zealand with a population of around 44 million. Nearly two thirds of the land area is rolling-to-flat with around 40 percent of the country receiving annual rainfall of 750-1,200mm, higher in the north and east, lower in the south and west.

“Argentina has a reputation for its beef and it is delicious – most restaurants and a lot of homes have a parilla, a wood and charcoal fueled barbeque, over which the meat is slowly cooked.

“They also have very good wine. We drove 12 hours from Pergamino to Mendoza at the foot of the Andes. Once we’d crossed the pampa, the land became drier and less fertile for miles until we finally saw mountains in the distance then there was mile after mile of grape vines.”

The Ludemanns were in Argentina in 2012 as part of a 300-strong Air New Zealand All Black entourage to watch the test against the Pumas. They described being part of a capacity crowd of 52,000 in La Plata as the All Blacks won the inaugural Rugby Championship as an amazing experience.

As holiday memories go, the trip to Mercado de Liniers, one of the world’s largest cattle markets, was a highlight. Liniers is a 34 hectare sale yard that handles about 13 percent of Argentina’s cattle and sets the market for the country.

Ele says the day they were there 8,500 head of cattle were up for auction. “A big number by New Zealand standards but well down from the market record of 42,000 for a day's sale.”

 

Family farm values

Fifty years of farming has seen Grant and Ele grow their business to 12 farms spread over more than 20,000 acres.

Grant was 16 when he began his farm ownership journey by purchasing the neighbouring property to the North Otago family farm in 1967.

Their EGL Pastoral Group has farms from Otahuti in Southland to a recent swerve into the North Island with the purchase of a 600 hectare lamb finishing block out of Dannevirke in the Tararua District.

The move into the North Island was to purchase a property to complement and expand the finishing side of the southern operation.

Last year more than 450ha was re-grassed with Grant, who has a love of developing properties, saying the latest acquisition has “gone very well.” He had been looking to expand into the North Island, saying so much of the good South Island land was taken up by dairy.

“I thought there was an opportunity to move north but I could never find a farm that suited us until last year when we bit the bullet.”

Their operation now includes four intensive lamb finishing farms, a beef and hill country farm and a largescale breeding, beef and lamb finishing operation. The dairy operation in North Otago has five dairy units supported by three run-off properties.

The Ludemanns were the first to convert to dairy in their Waiareka Valley district in 1997 and have since converted four more farms to dairy.

The jewel in the crown is the 3,000ha Onslow View at Millers Flat in Central Otago, which they purchased 10 years ago. Farming hasn’t always been easy for the opportunistic couple. In the mid-1980s they were hit by the ag-sag at their drought-prone North Otago property.

It was Grant’s foresight to irrigate that saw them finishing stock, which became the turning point for their operation.

Quality, excellence and integrity is the EGL Pastoral focus, from its high quality presentation of stock to milk production.

 

Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, Grant says their business is run on a culture of family farm values.

“We have built a lot of good relationships and our business is built on that loyalty.”

Grant is a firm believer in co-operatives with his association with the Otago Rural Trading Society beginning in the 1970s, followed by Combined Rural Traders Limited (CRT) and now Farmlands. “We enjoy the challenge. At the end of the day you only have one shot of life. “If you see an opportunity, make the most of it.”

Success is a shared measure in the Ludemanns’ world. They are quick to praise their staff of around 40, saying they have very good people working for them. “Long-serving staff are an important ingredient in helping us maintain family-farming values and culture in our business.”

In line with family values, their daughter’s fiancé will be joining the business in the next few months.

 

“Our longest serving staff member, Don Fraser, came to do 3 days tractor work for us in 1989. He was 59 at the time, turned 88 in March this year and is still working full-time for us.”

 

A break from farming 

Grant Ludemann believes life is one long holiday if you enjoy what you are doing. In the early years of their marriage, Ele and Grant didn’t get off the farm a lot and if they did it was usually still farming related. It was the challenges in life, such as the loss of their sons and the agsag of the mid 1980s, which put pressure on their farming operation, that made them realise what was important.

“We started having proper holidays. It’s a woods and trees thing… when you are nose down you can’t always see the bigger picture,” Ele says.

Grant’s theory is that one of the beauties of having farms all around the country is he gets to reflect as he moves around visiting them all.

The Ludemanns’ love of Bruno, his family and Argentina has seen them visit the country 10 times, including a trip last year with the Pastoral Management Group.

Around 12 years ago the Ludemanns were invited to join the group, which comprises couples from around New Zealand. They describe their involvement as pivotal for their farming business, with the annual autumn farm visits effectively giving the group access to 40 plus farm advisors.

“You get to see how other people do things, it’s a real eye opener.”

Last year 19 people from the group visited Argentina and were hosted by the Rossi family.

“Our friends could all see how special our relationship with the family is,” Ele says. “We love Argentina but it is the Rossi family and the people who set it apart for us.”

The couple’s Argentinian love affair is so strong they spent 3 months in Spain so Ele, who had been taking Spanish lessons, could cement her language skills and Grant could recuperate from a tractor accident.

“He got better and I learned the language,” Ele laughs.