New elected Bay of Plenty Federated Farmers’ provincial president Darryl Jensen on the farm at Paengaroa, which has been in his family since 1958.
His family have been dairy farmers in Black Rd, Paengaroa, since 1958. And while that’s where he grew up, continuing the tradition didn’t figure in young Darryl Jensen’s future plans.
“Milking cows didn’t really appeal but I liked farming so began a cadetship with drystock farmer Ray Hayward at Pikowai when I left school,” says Darryl, who several decades on is now not only a dairy farmer back at Black Rd, but the newly elected provincial president for Bay of Plenty Federated Farmers.
After starting work at Pikowai, and other Bay of Plenty properties, Darryl moved to the King Country working on a sheep and beef property near Te Kuiti.
Eventually he and wife Kim bought a 400 hectare sheep and beef farm near Waimihi. Darryl’s his younger brother was running the family farm when in 1999 he died in a microlight crash. Following the tragic accident, Kim and Darryl decided to return to the farm where Darryl’s parents Brian and Pat still live.
So Darryl the drystock farmer became a dairy farmer. Kim continued her teaching career at Pongakawa School and their daughters Chloe now 23 and Hannah 21 completed their secondary education and left home for tertiary studies.
Over time the Jensen family had increased the size of the original farm to today’s 116ha milking up to 340 crossbred cows through a herringbone dairy. Currently, the farm employs two staff to give Darryl time for his Federated Farmers commitments. But he’s still the overall manager as well as relief worker, and calf-rearer, and also owns a kiwifruit orchard.
Darryl has stepped into the new president’s role, previously held by Rick Powdrell, following other executive positions including Te Puke branch chairman.
He was also involved with Ruapehu Federated Farmers while living in the King Country.
“We had a problem with TB in the area with livestock under movement control restrictions. This issue was a major concern to farmers in the region,” says Darryl.
“Richard Steele, our Ruapehu Federated Farmers president, was a tireless worker for farmers on this issue. This was my introduction to farming politics and what Federated Farmers could do for farmers.”
The introduction of aerial spreading of 1080 poison drops in the district was controversial but Darryl says following its use, rata trees in the bush bloomed at Christmas for the first time in years thanks to the reduction in possum numbers.
“This and regular TB testing and movement restrictions were the catalyst for where we are today with TB control.”
Naturally Darryl is an advocate of farmers joining Federated Farmers, which he says for a $635 annual subscription plays a vital advocacy role on behalf of members and provides leadership pathways for those keen to step up to local, regional and even national roles.
It’s also offers important networking and mentoring opportunities, and gives support to farmers both formally and informally.
“Membership in the Bay of Plenty is dropping partly due to changing land use. There was a time when the region had 1000 or so members.
“Now it’s about 540 and that’s largely because farms have amalgamated or land use has changed to kiwifruit or avocado orcharding.”
Darryl says water, its availability and its quality, is among the major issues facing farming in New Zealand; and that’s why Federated Farmers is working closely with government ministries, regional councils, fertiliser and milk companies and industry bodies.
Previous farming generations probably couldn’t conceive of a time when their descendants would need, in effect, a licence to farm. But Darryl says that’s fast becoming a reality.
“New Zealand farmers have made significant changes to the way we farm but we could be greener and cleaner and we need to work on that.
“Meeting stricter environmental conditions comes at a cost and farmers can only afford those changes if they can continue to make a profit.”
Technology will have a big part to play in enabling farmers to continue to be productive and profitable while protecting the environment, says Darryl, who believes New Zealand needs to revisit its genetic modification laws and attitudes.
“New Zealand scientists have added a naturally-occurring lipid to rye grass which makes it develop 30 per cent more leaves and root mass, using less water and potentially less fertiliser. But it can’t be released to farmers in this country because of our legislation.”
Changing farmers’ focus from commodity markets to high-end consumers is also the way of the future, says Darryl.
“New Zealand produces enough food for up to 40 million people. For New Zealand these 40 million need only to be five per cent of the world’s wealthy population, which is considered to be 800 million people. This is who we should target – the people who can afford and want to pay a premium for food which is safe, of high quality and produced using high standards of animal welfare.”
Despite the current low payout and tough financial times dairy farmers are facing, Darryl has confidence in the industry’s future and the ability of New Zealand farmers to innovate and continue to produce some of the highest quality foods in the world.
However, the next few seasons will be tough – and Federated Farmers roles of supporting and advocating for farmers will be even more important.