Bringing rimu back to Mount Rimu as the farm family adapts to change

In four generations, a Rai Valley family has gone from logging to planting native trees, writes Penny Wardle, a former Marlborough Express journalist, for Te Hoiere Project.

Justin and Hamish Morrison farm alongside dad Brent on land purchased by their great-grandfather, ‘Billy Irish’, who sailed from Cork to New Zealand as a baby.

Billy, the son of a smuggler who rowed people up the Wairau River at Kaituna west of Blenheim, became a hitch. By hauling rimu, kahikatea, matai and totara logs for Brownlee’s Sawmilling Company, he saved enough money to buy 40 hectares of building land in Rimu Gully in 1924.

“It was just out of the bush with stumps everywhere and no grass, a boundary fence and only one good paddock for hay,” says Brent. “It took years for the stumps to rot. Eventually they were pulled out with a six-horse team.

Milk was delivered to the Rai Valley Dairy Factory by horses and carts that forded the Rai River every day, regardless of the weather.

The 11 children of Billy and his wife Violet milked 20 cows before school while their father continued to work for Brownlee’s, which had mills throughout the Pelorus district.

Denny an innovator

When Billy Irish broke his leg, his 12-year-old son Denny Morrison stayed home to help his mother at Mt Rimu Farm and learned to plow with a team of horses.

“For someone who left school so young, he had big ideas and was very intelligent with a great ability to recognize things that would make you better off,” Brent recalled of his father, Denny, who died the year last, at the age of 91. “He fought tradition, fought for the little guy and was very persuasive.

To increase his capital and buy more land, Denny joins forces with the miller Sinclair Couper. They sawed native timber into six-foot lengths, split with wedges and an ax into triangular poles mostly sold to Awatere farmers in the 1950s.

“In his later years, Dad [Denny] had regrets cutting down the last rimu trees off Mount Rimu for lumber, sold and used to build our house just as treated pine became available,” Brent recalls. “He later saw this as plunder and – inspired by the New Zealand Forest Service – became an early adopter of agricultural forestry.”

These plantations are now in a second rotation. Brent’s has expanded to 127 hectares of forest including redwoods, blackwoods and cypresses as well as pines. All trees are thinned and pruned to maximize value. Forty hectares of native bush remain on Mount Rimu.

Rai Valley agriculture chief Denny Morrison, seen here giving a speech on Anzac Day in 2011, was an innovator who fought tradition and fought for the little guy, says his son.

Sam Morton

Rai Valley agriculture chief Denny Morrison, seen here giving a speech on Anzac Day in 2011, was an innovator who fought tradition and fought for the little guy, says his son.

Denny chaired the Rai Valley Dairy Company, the first in New Zealand to install refrigerated vats on farms.

“He fought the Dairy Board for this improvement and incentivized nighttime collection by tankers, allowing a bigger window between milkings and transport at a cooler time,” says Brent.

After leading the merger of the Rai Valley, Koromiko and Tuamarina Dairy businesses into Marlborough Cheese in Tuamarina, Denny spearheaded the cooperative’s search for new markets. This culminated in the export of kosher cheese to Jewish customers in New York.

These same powers of persuasion saw Denny arrange for the Pelorus Hall to be raised by hand from its stilts, onto a truck and onto new stilts at Carluke. He correctly calculated that if all the men in the valley showed up, they would be able to bear the brunt of it.

Denny and his wife Erica were also innovators, joining the Livestock Improvement Council (LIC) the year he arrived on the South Island, 1954. The NZ Dairy Board subsidiary enabled artificial insemination with semen from proven bulls, thereby improving the performance of participating herds.

In 1968, the couple built the milking shed the family still uses near Rimu Creek which discharges effluent, at the time permitted and considered logical. Almost immediately, mentalities changed and a ramp was built in the early 70s so that waste could be collected and spread on the paddocks.

Environmental pressures are increasing

By the time 16-year-old Brent came on board in 1961, the farm had grown from 40ha to 150ha at Rimu Gully, 120ha at Opouri plus a leased block in the Ronga Valley.

“In the beginning, I liked the development work more than milking the cows. But a stint sowing in Western Australia convinced me that sitting in a tractor all day isn’t great.

Back home, he married the girl next door, Caralyn Price, raised on a dairy farm atop Opouri.

“We communicated well, shared ideas and work. It was a perfect relationship, supporting each other.

Justin, Brent and Hamish Morrison, with Mount Rimu in the background, on the family farm in Rai Valley.

Penny Wardle

Justin, Brent and Hamish Morrison, with Mount Rimu in the background, on the family farm in Rai Valley.

Brent and Caralyn’s years on the land saw the Dirty Dairy campaign highlight the deterioration of rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands as agriculture intensified, particularly in Canterbury and the the Southland. Water quality has suffered due to the dramatic increase in irrigation withdrawals and the runoff of effluents, sediments and nitrogen-rich urea fertilizers.

In 2012, the couple were among the first in Marlborough to install a weeping wall to separate solid and liquid waste from the dairy. The liquid is gravity fed into a rubber lined storage basin and then sprayed on pastures as fertilizer when the soils are dry and absorbing nutrients.

The dried solids are worked into the soil before sowing. Railroad crossings have been bridged, culverts installed, waterways fenced and native trees planted.

Brent agrees that using urea-based fertilizers is not the best practice.

“There was a time when we applied the ‘big hits’ twice a year. It’s rocket fuel that grows grass but suppresses too much clover which naturally fixes nitrogen.

These days, small amounts flow more steadily “so they don’t spill” into waterways. Potash, essential for growing hay or silage, is added in the fall, sulfur in the spring, and lime to balance it all out.

The family embraces the Te Hoiere project

From day one the Morrisons have been associated with the Te Hoiere project which brings people together to restore the land, rivers, streams and estuary of Pelorus in Havelock.

In June, a team of professionals cleared a 2 ha waterfront site on their farm for native planting and weed control over the next two years. The family paid for the fencing and some of the factory costs, with the rest covered.

Teams of horses carried logs from the forests of Pelorus.

Havelock Museum

Teams of horses carried logs from the forests of Pelorus.

“We want to bring rimu back to Rimu Gully,” says Justin, who planted 20 around the farm this fall.

Brother Hamish leads the dairy herd of 415 cows and his wife, Lee, is the primary calf raiser. Justin, a fitter and turner, manages the beef side of the business, forestry, tractor work and day-to-day maintenance while his wife, Kimberly, works off the farm.

“I see the farm becoming more technological to meet environmental challenges while advancing milking and administration,” says Hamish, who returned from overseas work in 2016 when his mother fell ill and then died. deceased.

He resumed office work, moving billing, GST, and payroll to the cloud, while initially working as a surveyor in Nelson.

There are plans to build a new milking shed on a low rise in the center of the farm to minimize cow walking and efficiently feed waste into the processing tanks. This should align well with technology like ear tags and electronic collars that will track cow movements, feeding, fertility and calving on phones, Hamish says.

A fifth generation of Morrisons are now growing up on the farm.

About Paul Cox

Check Also

In the shadow of the mafia, a son honors his father

His father spent the rest of his life in the Blooming Grove home, where he …