An interview with Keith Rowlands

Keith beside one of the waterways on his farm
Keith beside one of the waterways on his farm

Keith Rowlands farms upstream of the Water Treatment Station on the Main Highway. His 200ha farm has an effective farming area of 165ha, milking 430 cows.

What we do on farms is hugely important because this is where New Plymouth gets all of the city water from. The Waiwhakaiho River catchment is the source of fresh water. We have 3kms of Mangorei stream as our back boundary.

Taranaki Regional Council initiated Riparian Planting for all Taranaki farmers in 1998 (16 yrs. ago) way before other regional councils – our council has been awesome. They have a very good website and fantastic maps – there are so many waterways and streams coming off the mountain. They know who have plans and who don’t.

I took it on right at the start. We started in 1996; we have quite a few stands of native bush as well. We keep the stock out and it makes management a lot easier. Every year we plant trees. You need a buffer zone along the creeks of 3-5 metres minimum. When I’ve fully fenced every waterway I can get a completion certificate – not many of those certificates have been issued. I need to spend time replacing trees that I have lost and upgrading the fences. You need a 4-5 metre buffer zone or you are wasting your time. We would probably have 20km of fencing protecting the streams. We’ve planted thousands of trees. I find 5-600 per year is a big job for one person. I’ve done the entire tree planting on our farm myself. We plant in the autumn – the flaxes and ToiToi are fairly easy but the trees take longer. The trees are grown under contract for Taranaki Regional Council at a very good price.

I grew up on the farm, Dad milked about 80 cows but the farm was only 40ha (100acres). He and neighbours all had sheep on the back part of the farm and only had the cows at the front of the farm. I went to Massey University (Diploma of Agriculture) and came back to share milk for my parents. Slowly we have bought and amalgamated neighbouring farms.

We have a little camp ground by the river for our family. We go and camp there over the summer in an old caravan. Great swimming hole. As a kid I went trout fishing and our children have all been too. We have caught some great fish there. We’d wrap them in tin foil and cook them up in a fire. An awesome holiday – you didn’t have to go anywhere. I’d get up early, go and milk and come back for breakfast. We still get good fish today from the same spot.

In my father’s day the cows used to drink out of the river. The cream went to the Mangorei Co-op. We had pigs and used to take the cream cans to the front gate. My Dad is 93yrs old now – he had horses on the farm. My son is on the farm now – I go out there now and think of the huge progress our family has made in a relatively short time – it’s incredible! My son and his partner are lower order share milkers for us.

We have put in a roofed feed pad to feed cows during the lactation and when they are dry over winter. We feed maize and palm kernel. The roof is to minimize the effluent run off – the roof is important with our heavy rainfall. I spray the effluent from a storage pond. We built a new 40 bail rotary cowshed 10yrs ago on a new site – it was all set up 10 yrs. ago. We irrigate over 30ha, which is way more than we have to under the regulations. We have about 1.5 metres of annual rainfall. We are required to have 90 days of effluent storage, which is really difficult with our rainfall.

My son and I belong to the local discussion group – it’s better to talk to other farmers about difficulties of complying with the Regional Council freshwater rules – because city people really don’t understand. They think we are just moaning again. In early 2015 the Taranaki Regional Council will put out their proposed Freshwater Plan. We want to have our say and it is important farmers contribute to the details in the plan – every Taranaki farm is different, especially in terms of rainfall and one rule won’t fit all.

The Mangorei Stream is important to keep the water temperature of the Waiwhakaiho River down after the power station. There is very little flow after the weir. Our planting keeps the stream water cold. Most people wouldn’t realize that our tree planting is crucial to maintaining the water temperature of the Waiwhakaiho River.

Keith discussing the Mangorei catchment tree plan
Keith discussing the Mangorei catchment tree plan