When Stanley Powdrell arrived in Auckland from England in 1857 he didn’t stay put. Instead, he walked to the Hawke’s Bay.
That overland trek marked the beginnings of the Powdrell farming tradition in New Zealand, for despite what must have been tough and primitive conditions Stanley encouraged other members of his family to join him.
Bay of Plenty Federated Farmers provincial president Rick Powdrell.
Among his descendants is sheep and beef farmer Rick Powdrell of Te Puke, who is also Bay of Plenty Federated Farmers provincial president and Federated Farmers meat and fibre industry group chairperson.
In addition Rick has federation responsibilities for animal welfare, education and skills, rural security, and liaison roles with goat farmers and rural butchers.
Rick also chairs the Te Puke Veterinary service, is a board member of the Te Puke Economic Development Group and sits on the Bay of Plenty Farmers’ Education Trust.
Today Rick and Rose Powdrell farm land developed by Rick’s grandfather Jack, who arrived in the district in 1939 to begin clearing fern from the property in Rangiuru Rd, south of Te Puke.
“It was pretty much covered in fern. Even today if you don’t keep it under control, the fern grows back. There were no trees but my grandfather planted many, especially around the house.”
He also chose an excellent, if at the times exposed, house site. “I remember my grandmother saying you needed two people to put a cover on a horse up here on a windy day.”
Rick grew up on the farm, working alongside his father John until he left home to work for Michael Bell of Fibre Fresh Feeds at Reporoa.
“That was a great experience. We did things quite differently from on our farm. We grew 200 acres of lucerne and ran 4000 ewes.”
In 1986 Rick and Rose bought part of the Powdrell family farm, leasing the rest from Rick’s parents and now live in the homestead built on the site chosen by his grandparents.
The home commands views across farmland to the coast and Rick and Rose have renovated it for modern living, in a manner sympathetic to its colonial style.
The Powdrell farm is 502ha, with 440ha effective and can carry up to 1800 stock units.
Each season 2150 ewes and 525 hoggets are mated, producing 32,000 lambs, or a 136 per cent lambing rate for ewes. “The hoggets are doing okay, but their percentage is a bit lower.”
The sheep are the Romney breed and Rick takes strong interest in wool. “We’ve been rewarded for that with above average prices.”
The farm runs 75 beef steers and 365 rising two-year-old heifers plus a small number of empty cows. By December 250 calves are taken on as grazers and in winter 180 in-calf heifers and winter cows are brought in.
Rick has been a member of Federated Farmers since the 1980s but raising a young family and running the farm took most of his time until recent years, when he’s stepped into leadership roles.
The decision to do so was a combination of a desire to give back to an organisation which had supported him, and a chance to put into practice what he learned from a Kelloggs Rural Leadership Programme.
Employing young people on the farm is another way Rick sees to give back to the industry, supporting its future, and releasing him for the increasing demands of his Federated Farmers local and national roles.
“I’ve always been grateful for the opportunities I had as a young man and believe it is important to give young people the chance to experience farming and understand what it has to offer.”
His current farm manager is James Burke, who has turned to hands-on farming after being in the banking industry.
“It’s great having James here and I can already see the benefits of two skilled managers on the farm. We have different but complementary skills and its making a difference.”
While Rick’s skills lie in his years of extensive farming experience both practical and business-wise, James’ finance and practical skills are complemented by his ready understanding of technology and its application to modern farming.
Rick believes it’s important agriculture gets the message out to young people that farming is increasingly high-tech and there are jobs for those with IT skills as well as practical skills.
“Precision farming is a reality in so much of what we do, but I would hate to see the time when people didn’t get out there and enjoy the animals and the environment.
“That’s, after all, what farming is all about.”