The farming gene runs strong in the Morrinsville Singh family. Mahindar Singh and his wife Jispal Kaur are the third generation to farm on their Piako Rd, Morrinsville, property.
The fourth generation – their sons Agiapal and Sahejdeep – now manage the two Fonterra supply herds on this property while the oldest son, Karamjeet, has taken the responsibility for a newly-acquired 180 hectares Tatua supply dairy farm on State Highway 27.
Karamjeet Singh at the dairy with, in the background, the Halo aerial that helps him monitor what’s happening on the farm and in the vat.
But you have to look back many years to the early 1920s, when a 15-year-old Mela Singh left his home in India to travel to New Zealand, to understand the depth of this Singh farming experience.
Karamjeet’s great-grandfather, Lt Mela Singh, managed to get entry into New Zealand because he could write his name – in English. Mela Singh did all sorts of farm work when he came this country, getting work wherever he could. After 10 years he returned to India to bring his wife and son, Lt Sarwan Singh, back to New Zealand.
The family has stories of the couple living in a tent alongside a river in Pirongia for two years while they worked on nearby farms. The hard work ethics paid off with the next generation.
In 1935 Sarwan Singh and his family managed to scrape money together to buy 10 acres in Taumaranui and as time went by they increased their land holding to 150ha. In 1935 the family moved to Piako Rd in Morrinsville where the extended family all learned the dairy farming lifestyle.
Sarwan’s son Mahindar took over in 1973 and today his three sons have the responsibility of three dairy farms.
“Our three sons are progressing through the dairy sector and grasping the challenges they face with the balance of new and old methods,” says Mahindar. “As the generations are progressing, so is the technology.”
As a youngster Karamjeet helped on the family farm and after his schooling at Hamilton Boys’ High School he headed off to learn a trade off the farm as a fitter-welder before returning to work on the new family dairy farming venture on SH27.
He had the dairy farming basics, the ‘right’ way of farming and certainly had the experience – but he was keen to also embrace the latest technology and one of those innovations was the HALO SYSTEM a programme which enables dairy farmers to monitor aspects of their farming operation – like milk temperature in the vats and water levels in bores.
“The sole reason behind me installing the HALO SYSTEM was to eliminate the staff errors like switching the chiller units on at start of milking, vat refrigeration faults and any chillers faults.
“Chillers are one of the most important parts to maintain the quality of milk,” says Karamjeet.
There was plenty of family discussion about new technology – the three farms are family-run and owned operations, they share ideas and experiences and they also share equipment. Purchasing the big ticket items like expensive tractors, drain diggers they can use on all three farms, sharing the expense, just makes good sense.
When they purchased the SH27 farm in 2010 it had a six-year-old cowshed and was already a Tatua supplier and for the first year Karamjeet just ran the farm “as it was”.
Different farming style
“It was very high input. The soil is sandy loam. We had been used to farming on the peat at Piako Rd. “This is a completely different style of farming so we had to readjust to make it work. We reduced cow numbers by 60 and reduced the high-input feed.”
They used to feed maize, palm kernel, molasses, even whey. “We wanted to bring it back to a more grass and silage to be more self-sufficient but it needed work. We needed to keep production up.
“We reconfigured the races – now we have a full loop. The 50-bail rotary has Protrack and we have changed small things in the shed and installed a glycol chiller but I was also keen to get HALO up and running.
“I first became aware of this technology through Tag It, which are computer specialists for the dairy industry, then followed its progress through various websites feedback of other farmers who have installed it and the specialist.”
But he waited for a year or two to ensure all of the kinks were sorted. “I kept my eye on it, watched it progress.
“We installed it this season and it’s been great. I can monitor the vats, ensure the milk temperature is where it should be. I can check the water levels around the farm, the irrigation and we can add other applications as we go – like weather stations.”
Karamjeet says Halo records milk temperature every five minutes. He uses his phone to open an app and the simple diagrams and graphs show exactly what is happening. During the interview the tanker arrived and five minutes after it left we could see the change in the data on his phone.
The farmer sets the parameters and if the temperature changes then an alert is sent by text or email so the farmer is aware of any problem.
Since installing this system it has already paid for itself with the early alerts of major vat cooling errors.
Earlier in the season, when the power to the vat tripped, the milk temperature changed but because HALO had alerted Karamjeet to the problem he was able to do something about it immediately. The HALO system is run on solar energy so is not affected by power outage.
Karamjeet says HALO gives him peace of mind and he can be anywhere – all he has to do is check his phone or respond to an alert.
He says it is another good tool, which makes farming easier and safer, and means they can avoid costly mistakes when power supply or similar fails and the milk temperature is jeopardised.
“As a young farmer I want to keep on top of the technology which will assist us. I feel it is in our best interest that we help progress and promote in a positive manner the dairy industry.
“If we improve our methods with the help of such systems we also can encourage the new generation into this sector. Leaving aside any stereotypical understandings of a dairy farmer and show the new generation how far dairy farming has come since my granddad and dad’s era.”
Mahindar says he wished he had HALO in his early dairy farming days. “In past years we’ve had to dump a few loads of milk because the power or something had affected the chiller and Fonterra won’t take milk which does not comply.
“The HALO system would have paid for just one of those spoilt milk loads,” says Mahindar.