Great Farming Stories

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Graeme & Karen Saunders and Nathan & Vanessa McCluskie (as partners) - KaIwhio Farms

15 February 2019

Graeme & Karen Saunders and Nathan & Vanessa McCluskie (as partners) - KaIwhio Farms

A business’ success is perhaps best measured by how much its owners are fulfilling their own potential. And if personal growth and fulfilment are indicators of this potential being realised, then each of the partners involved with Kawhio Farms can be proud to say they are part of a successful enterprise.

The 680ha farm owned by Graeme and Karen Saunders has a robust business strategy that enabled them to plan for succession, meet their farm goals, and provide an equity growth pathway for staff. The latter gave rise to a 420ha dairy platform operated through a Limited Liability Partnership with Nathan and Vanessa McCluskie. The Saunders own 75% and the McCluskies own 25% with a pathway to increase to 50%. 

The Saunders operate 280ha through Kaiwhio Farms Ltd which is dedicated to dairy support, sheep, beef, cropping and forestry. Kaiwhio Farms provides grazing and maize silage for the dairy farms, as a separate commercial entity A third adjoining farm, purchased by Vanessa McCluskies’ parents, is leased by the partnership.

The judges were impressed by the farm’s infrastructure including well-maintained fences and races, effective water reticulation and buildings. They were also impressed by the business structure and good financial management with strong profit-focused goals. 

Improved pastures provide above average yields for the district. This result is made possible by ensuring production practices are suited to the land. Dairy units are on easy contour and steep hills are sheep only areas. Approximately 22 hectares are in forestry on steep erodible land. This is planted in Ovensii cypress and Redwood and maize is grown on flat to gently rolling country.  Soil fertility varies across the farm with changes in topography and land use. The integrity of the soil is protected by minimising pugging and maintaining structure during cropping. Riparian management on the property is good with wide buffer zones fenced off with substantial fences. In many places these are planted with natives and exotic trees and shrubs and the significance of wetlands is understood and appreciated and this has lead to the creation of ponds and wetlands.

The Saunders are rightly proud of their staff retention rate which remains healthy thanks to providing pathways for career development and providing a safe and happy working environment.

They entered the awards to learn more about their business and the changing environmental landscape in which they operated. “We enjoyed meeting some interesting people and seeing pathways for future improvement. Advice to others considering entry would be that no one is ready or perfect. Be open to advice. I feel we have so much to learn and this is a helpful part of that journey.”  

Awards Won

Bayleys People in Primary Sector Award

Predator Free Farm Award