It was suggested by Virginia Tocher from Primary ITO, that Waikato drystock farm manager, Luke Foster (26), enter the AgResearch Emerging Achiever Award in the 2021 Beef + Lamb Awards. He was surprised to get through but can really see the value in being a part of awards such as this.
Luke was raised on a beef farm in the Huntly area, and his grandfather had also farmed. An ex-head boy of Te Kauwhata College, he loved helping out on the farm as he grew up and always knew he wanted a career in farming.
“When it came to tertiary education, I looked at practical farming options, but I already knew that side from growing up on a farm, so I decided on an agricultural commerce degree at Massey, majoring in Agribusiness.”
He feels that this was a good move for him and has already paid dividends, especially the business side of his knowledge.
“It’s good to have a piece of paper to your name.”
Luke started his career as a shepherd on a Romney sheep stud in Matamata before moving to Hangawera Station, Tauhei as shepherd general in 2018. By the end of 2019 he was the farm manager.
The 800 hectare (530 hectares effective) rolling to hill country sheep and beef property is one of several farms in the area under Tainui Group Holdings Ltd.
Luke works alone on the property, but the farms within the Group work together during key events like docking and weaning the lambs.
“We’ve got about 130 hectares of retired land in native bush and a 75-hectare pine forestry block. Once that is harvested, the plan is to replant with natives.”
Rushes are an issue on the farm and work is being carried out to reduce and if possible, eradicate them using mulching and cropping to develop the paddocks back to pasture.
The farms winter 600 cattle, 1150 ewes and 300 hogget replacements. In April each year, the farm is divided into a cell block grazing system, with half to one-hectare cells. During winter the farm has enough grass to supply the stock numbers and the grazing rotation varies between 50 to 70 days.
“The cattle are bought in as either weaner dairy/beef bulls/steers or rising twos. The dairy bulls are Friesians or Hereford cross, but the steers are a mixture of beef breeds. We finish about 500 to 600 cattle a year.”
The sheep are Coopworth breeding flock, and terminal sires are now used each year. The replacements are bred on the other sheep and beef block. Most ewes have two lambs and scanning has been at 170 per cent for the past 4 years.
“We grow 15 to 20 hectares of rape as a summer crop and finish around 2000 to 2500 lambs on that through the summer.”
Luke grows grass silage as supplement for the farm and feeding out starts around the end of January, depending on how dry it is, and goes through until April. Excess feed is sold either internally or externally.
Luke has the support of his partner Brooke Harris, a teacher at Matamata Intermediate.
“She grew up on a sheep and beef farm, and we talk about the farm together. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her support and input. She puts on a pair of gumboots and helps out when she’s not at work.”
Currently Luke is studying for his Primary ITO Level 5 production management course,
“I think it’s invaluable to keep learning and have these courses on your CV. Networking with like-minded people and getting to know your peers is what opens doors.
“The Level 5 course looks at your production systems and operations and uses benchmarking tools that indicate where you sit within the industry and farms of similar characteristics. It really helps teach you what is and isn’t working and how to change/develop things.”
Previously he completed Primary ITO’s Level 4 sheep and beef breeding course and says that has already been of use to him.
The farm was part of a Red Meat Profit Partnership discussion group for farm managers within the Waikato/King Country.
“Where we are now is mainly surrounded by dairy farms so that was a good opportunity to mix with others experiencing what we do.”
Luke tries to keep to a Monday to Friday working life if the calendar events allow unless he’s feeding out. He enjoys dirt bike riding and doing cross country and trail rides with his mates, and playing rugby, golf and tennis.
“It’s all about balancing work and ensuring we look after our mental health.”
Luke and Brooke would like to own a farm of their own or be part of an equity partnership or share farming option one day. They are currently looking for a lease block to get that goal underway. His family have sold up their farms so there is no family farm to pass down.
Never shying away from a good networking opportunity and seeing different systems in action, Luke’s ultimate goal is to become a farm consultant and help others with their farming journeys.
“By going farming and running a farm I believe it will give me the practical knowledge for me to offer relatable recommendations to farmers. I get real joy from helping others, you can’t beat that to be fair.”