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Productivist and Post-Productivist Transitions in Northern Southland

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

The field trip has been organised to take advantage of the proximity of Southland which is one of New Zealand's most historically significant as well as beautiful farming regions. The trip is planned around the dramatic transitions happening in the region's land-use which demonstrate, in microcosm, many of the tensions and negotiations that are setting the future direction of pastoral farming in New Zealand.


The field trip will concentrate around the upper Mataura River valley running from Fairlight (near Lake Wakatipu) and running down through the villages of Garston and Athol before emerging into the Oreti River valley around the towns of Lumsden and Mossburn.

Family farms that once were viable sheep farms and now negotiating one of three pathways: 1) convert to dairying, 2) make some kind of accommodation with the dairy boom by winter grazing dairy cows, or 3) move in a totally new direction by integrating with the expanding local tourist industry.

We will be visiting a valley that represents the outer limit of the expansion of dairying in New Zealand and is fascinatingly positioned between the lowland farming systems of Southland and the tourist opportunities that are created by Queenstown and the new 'Round the Mountains' cycle trail. We'll also be travelling through iconic landscapes like the Devil's Staircase above Lake Wakatipu, the looming Ayre Mountains that overlook the upper Mataura valley and then the open vistas of the Oreti River valley surrounded by the ranges of Northern Southland.

Specific sites:

1) Lorne Peak Station:

This is an interesting family farm set in the stunning Fairlight region just near the Wakatipu Basin. Traditionally a classic sheep farm, the Taylor family have been manoeuvring between using winter grazing of dairy cows to raise short term income while transitioning to the new deep lucerne pastures advocating by dryland alternative farming guru Doug Avery.

FieldtripView from the road driving through Lorne Peak Station at Fairlight.

2) Welcome Rock:

Hector-MountainsThis new hiking and biking business is a classic 'post-productivist' venture by a family with over 100 years of high country sheep farming on this site. They have moved from producing merino wool, into the development of hiking and biking trails using the remnant of old goldfields water races to form the tracks. It is set in the spectacular scenery of Northern Southland. We will lunch at the old Southland Ski Club hut high the Hector Mountains Conservation Area which acts as the base for Welcome Rock biking and hiking. An optional 1.7km walk up to Welcome Rock allows for stunning views of the wider region framed to the West by the Ayre Mountains. Pray for good weather because the views are spectacular.

Above: Our picnic site in the Hector Mountains Conservation Area

3) Wilkins family farm:

WilkinsIn the village of Athol we will meet Steve Wilkins who is a Nuffield Scholar and has been giving considerable thought to the viability of dairy farming on what was originally sheep country. Steve considers that strengthening environmental regulations in the valley will mean that existing dairy production will have to intensify by going indoors into 'cut and carry' systems. This kind of transition would have very significant implications for families and farming systems in the valley.

4) Lumsden/Mossburn/Five Rivers:

One of the most dramatic transitions in Southland has been the arrival of centre pivot irrigation systems. We will drive the highway from Lumsden to Mossburn to see the major landscape transitions happening due to conversion from sheep to dairying. At this time of year, it is interesting to compare the lush sheep pastures with the even lusher irrigated dairy land. One agronomist described Southland's pasture systems of glacial/river gravels, warmth and high rainfall as 'hydroponic'.


Other points of Interest:

Cycle-trail• The 'Round the Mountains' cycle trail is one of the most ambitious pet projects of Prime Minister John Key. It commences with a boat ride to Walter Peak Station across the Wakatipu from Queenstown, then riders are transported over the Ayre Mountains in 4XD vehicles before commencing their biking high in the Oreti river valley. It takes in the Mavora Lakes, Oreti Valley, then joins the field trip itinerary at Mossburn and we'll follow the trail all the way back to Queenstown. It has been the site of considerable conflict with land owners who don't want cyclists near their farms and trout fishers who don't want cyclists arriving by 4XD into highly inaccessible 'trophy waters' in the upper Oreti valley.

Angler• The upper Mataura and Oreti river valleys are world famous trout fisheries. A significant number of tourists to the area are trout fishers and we'll drive past 'world famous in New Zealand' Stu's Fly Shop in Athol.

Anonymous angler enjoys the upper Oreti unmolested by cyclists...

• White Hill Wind Farm (near Mossburn): was the first wind farm developed in the South Island and was opened in 2007. It produces 58 megawatts of power and has, by local reputation, admirably reliable wind.


Deer-recovery• The little village of Mossburn is home to the workers who staff the local abattoir. Mossburn is now the centre of another unique Southland industry: the harvesting of feral deer, shot and recovered by helicopter from the surrounding mountains, processed in Mossburn to become venison in restaurants around New Zealand.

Agrifood New Economies of Pinot Noir Fieldtrip

Thursday, December 10th: 9.45am-1pm

Itinerary (33kb pdf)

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