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Stuart Farm, Te Anau

Manager: Luke Wright
Awards: Massey University Innovation Award, Alliance Quality Livestock Award, Hill Laboratories Harvest Award

Stuart Farm is a key Velthuis Farms property, southwest of Te Anau on 3,057ha of flat to rolling country. At the helm, when these awards were won, was Luke Wright with his partner Nicola Esler, overseeing a comprehensive, integrated deer, sheep and beef breeding operation (including an elite red deer stud), plus a fishing and trading operation.

All deer, cattle and sheep have RFID tags and the property is a demonstration farm for the FarmIQ system. Individual measurements and traits are recorded from birth to slaughter and this seamlessly collected information enables fact-based management decisions. The award judges highlighted the production achievements across all stock types in the three years since Luke and Nicola had been at Stuart Farm.

Judges were particularly impressed with the infrastructure and range of biodiversity. They noted a “comprehensive lane network which is excellently formed and maintained” and wrote, “matagouri and manuka is retained and recognised for valuable shelter, especially during fawning and lambing”. 10 hectares is to be added to the 140ha of wetland and creek areas already protected under QEII National Trust or Waiau Fisheries Trust covenants.

There are seven full-time employees. Stock Manager is Kris Harrison and Stud Head Shepherd is David Black. Luke and Nicola ensured a wide buy-in across stock types and classes, with all staff involved in all aspects of the operation. “We ran a pretty integrated system so while there are specific responsibilities, we expected everyone to be able to work with all stock,” said Luke.

Stuart farm has a solid record of industry participation in research and Luke has a wide range of commitments off farm, particularly in deer industry groups. Last year they began an embryo transfer programme from elite donors into 100 ex-stud hinds. “This programme was carried out in conjunction with Focus Genetics, to speed up genetic gain, which will flow through to Landcorp’s commercial deer operations,” explains Luke.

Luke was one of three shortlisted for the inaugural Zanda McDonald Award, a trans Tasman agribusiness initiative created by the Primary Platinum Producers (PPP) Group in recognition of exceptional leaders aged under 35.

Judges comments
  • Strong production achievements in the last three years; intuitive understanding of large-scale property’s potential and limitations
  • Excellent stock health over all stock classes, focus to improve returns by increasing product to sale
  • Excellent focus on managing staff to create an efficient, motivated, capable team has had a stabilising effect on the workforce
  • Experimental crop rotation to maximise feed grown and minimise tillage and use of chemicals
  • Monitoring of individual animal performance, treatments and outcomes over all stock classes through EID tags
  • Participant in FarmIQ programme resulting in full traceability through to the consumers
  • Innovative use of Wapiti sires over half the Red Deer herd advances skill dates, increases carcass weights
  • Hogget-mating trial between lucerne versus pasture-fed lambs, measuring reared lamb weights, eventual 2/T mating rates and fertility