Autumn at Bonavaree – Challenges and opportunities under lock down

It was great to have some rain last week – it allowed Fraser Avery some time to write about his planning for lucerne and sub clover after the first autumn rains – and to reflect on missing the opportunity to host us all at Bonavaree last week.

High quality feed – Sub clover in mid October on hill country at Bonavaree, Marlborough
On the farm

Yes it is raining!

When that 1st autumn rain finally comes (20+ mm)


We have 4-5 days to graze off any wilted Lucerne left on paddocks. If we have saved some to get through the dry, or there is little amounts of wilted regrowth on stands, we find it best to quickly remove this so the moisture goes into producing the next crop. At around 4-5 days the basal buds of the next cut will be appearing and we don’t want the animals to damage those.

Then keep off the Lucerne for as long as we can. Ideally follow up rains arrive and it can get 20+cm before contemplating grazing. If follow up rains don’t arrive but our Lucerne has had some growth but then wilts we will graze the wilted Lucerne again if no rain forecast. Grazing the lush Lucerne following a prolonged dry period brings added animal health risks so remember all the basic principles. Animals aren’t hungry when they enter the paddock, have grass paddock with gate open next or use Lucerne grass mix as 1st paddocks, and/or feed roughage, access to salt and clostridial vaccines have been given. This 1st growth can be high in nitrates.

We start thinking about our spring rotation so work back to when we will need to graze paddocks heading into winter as to which paddocks will be grazed 1st now.

Sub Clover

The pastures with sub clover in them have all been grazed down hard. We will now enjoy watching the millions of sub clover seedlings germinate and jump into life. These paddocks we will keep off until those seedlings are well established.

So how do we achieve the above practices?

For the next period of time we focus on keeping the animals confined to as few paddocks as possible. This is done by having some of our poorest paddocks saved for this occasion and feeding supplements.


Coping with the challenges

Yesterday we had planned to host a large gathering of farmers and industry personnel to celebrate our win of the Westpac Bayleys Marlborough Farmer of the Year 2019.

With a large part of NZ facing the challenge of drought, we were excited about the opportunity to share with those interested, the values and principles behind the people and the systems here at Bonavaree.

Whilst I’m more comfortable verbally communicating I thought I would try and put something in text to share, at this challenging time for us all.

At Bonavaree we are incredibly passionate about what we do. We thrive on building systems and engaging people to help us all grow and develop. Those who find what they’re passionate about and spend their time in this space, will have greater success and happiness.

During our first earthquake (2013) I learnt that shit always happens, and sometimes it’s big. Like Earthquakes, Covid-19 and winning the Marlborough Farmer of the Year. And sometimes it’s smaller, like the neighbour’s ram lamb getting in with your ewes. What’s important in my view is how we deal with the tough stuff! That’s what I believe defines us!

In the fast-paced lives that we lead the most important things can sometimes be misplaced in priority. In times of our biggest challenges we are reminded of what’s most important in life. Looking after ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbours and friends.

Communication is always important. Communicate REGULARLY and OFTEN. It’s vital for us and all those around us. Let our family, friends, staff and anyone else who supports us know what we are thinking and how we feel. Ask them for their thoughts and feelings so we can build relationships to survive the biggest challenges. Be aware that we sometimes can speak in a tone and context to those closest to us (partners) that we wouldn’t communicate to others. Communicate our story.

A lot of my time is spent around building and maintaining relationships. Strong, healthy relationships have been essential for us at Bonavaree to build and grow our business to the stage it is at now. We have chosen over the past years to where possible only build relationships with individuals and companies who are passionate about what they do! We try and surround ourselves with people. We have learnt so many things by engaging with people over the years and this continues on a daily basis. We also get great satisfaction out of feeling like we have helped someone, and this is why we spend so much time helping community organisations and individuals.

Getting myself into a healthy head space has been important. Focus on the positives and our strengths. Engage others to help with tasks you don’t enjoy where possible. Time spent thinking about things that are out of our control is time that should be spent elsewhere. Physical exercise and being physically fit helps us to be in a healthy head space. ME TIME (time for myself) I have learnt is most important. Often it is the 1st thing we cut out of our lives as we get busy with partners, children and work. I have learnt that ME TIME is essential to our own wellbeing. For me it is playing hockey. This is a time I can forget about everything else that’s going on in my life and chase a ball and some people half my age around a field before sharing a beer and a completely different conversation with them. I had 3 years out with injury and surgery and during that time didn’t replace hockey with something else for ME TIME. Last year getting back into it took me to a level of wellbeing that I hadn’t felt for 3 years. ME TIME for you could be going for a walk, maybe having a drink with friends……. Whatever it is find it and prioritise it!

Be proactive, drive your own bus. Don’t wait to react and let someone else drive. It is easy for us to be busy working. Make sure we are working on the best things.

Celebrate your wins. When times are tough the wins may seem small, but really celebrate them. Thank and congratulate those involved.

Every time I hear about a high performing individual or business what I’ve learnt is they all do the basics very well. They have a plan with an end goal. They understand where they currently are at with comprehensive measuring and monitoring and many of us struggle with this. Their timing of process is very deliberate and they know where they want to get to. The great news for the rest of us is that a lot of what they do isn’t rocket science.

Having kept up to date on Covid-19 from the beginning, I have been pleased that to date everything that has happened I had seen and felt before it had happened. This has given me strength and confidence in my own thoughts.

We have found ourselves in this very privileged and important position of being considered an essential business whilst our nation is in lock down. At Bonavaree we are currently very dry and the team have been spending a large percentage of their time doing maintenance work and training which to us is important but I didn’t believe essential in a lock down. At the start of the week I discussed this with the team and built a plan around managing through this period. We have 3 of the team off farm in their family bubbles ready to come back in if needed. The other 4 of us are doing essential tasks and then spending the rest of the day in our own bubbles. We want to show those who aren’t in essential business’s that we realise the privileged position we have and respect it. This is a real opportunity for our sector to reinforce our perceived position as the nation’s backbone, but as always, we have to play our part!!

Lately I have been asking fellow farmers, how do the All Blacks react when the IRB changes the rules in which our national game is played on the field?

Do we really think that our industry can go through time without rule changes? Change is something we have learnt happens and we actively embrace this at Bonavaree. Be involved in shaping our future.

There will be more opportunity over the next period of time than there’s ever been before. Let’s make sure we have our eyes open to see it!

I like to be challenged; this is when I get my greatest growth. I have had two challenges which I think have turned into great opportunities over the past few weeks for us all to take on with innovative thinking.

  1. All sectors have struggled with a shortage of labour over recent years. This is an opportunity for our sector to attract and retain talented and passionate individuals.
  2. When times are tough, physical and social interaction is essential in helping our mental and emotional wellbeing. That form of interaction has been taken away from us at present. We need to adapt and find new ways of doing this!

We look forward to hosting you at Bonavaree at our field day sometime in the future. The positives in the delay are that we are involved in many exciting projects on farm and will be able to share those with you in more detail by then. Until then, keep communicating! Take care and thank you all for helping us be who we are today!


Fraser Avery