Many hoppy re­turns: Dairy farm­ers take leap of faith

Fam­ily take chance on in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion of NZ crops and oth­ers ex­pected to fol­low. Lau­rel Ke­tel re­ports.

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

MOVE over milk, here comes craft beer. A long-es­tab­lished Nel­son farm is lead­ing the way as hops emerge as an al­ter­na­tive to dairy­ing for some farm­ers.

Holm­dale Farm in Spring Grove – south of Nel­son – has been a dairy farm for 75 years but is now amidst tran­si­tion af­ter sixth-gen­er­a­tion farmer Cameron Ealam, 28, saw an op­por­tu­nity.

The farm has been in the same fam­ily for 162 years and now Ealam and his part­ner, par­ents, un­cle, and even his 82-year-old grand­fa­ther are chip­ping in to tran­si­tion the 160-hectare prop­erty into a hops­grow­ing op­er­a­tion.

Ealam says the tran­si­tion was pri­mar­ily a life­style choice.

‘‘Dad didn’t want to be milk­ing cows at 60 so we’ve achieved that goal with a staged move out of dairy.’’

Holm­dale Farm is per­fectly placed for hops, which can only be com­mer­cially grown in the Tas­man re­gion be­cause of the lat­i­tude.

Con­vinc­ing his fam­ily wasn’t too dif­fi­cult, although 82-year-old Alan Eden was ini­tially con­cerned.

‘‘Grand­dad was wor­ried about los­ing the cows but he helped with our first har­vest this year and he loves it,’’ Ealam says. ‘‘It’s cool hav­ing him around to be a part of it all.’’

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers dairy vice-chair­man Wayne Lang­ford says he wouldn’t be sur­prised if more dairy farm­ers fol­lowed suit, es­pe­cially if the pro­posed Waimea Dam went ahead.

‘‘Hops are def­i­nitely in fash­ion at the mo­ment, and the prime land on the Waimea plains is per­fect for hop grow­ing.’’.

Ealam worked at ANZ bank in the agri­cul­tural team af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Lin­coln Univer­sity with a de­gree in farm man­age­ment and ru­ral prop­erty eval­u­a­tion.

ANZ was pro­duc­ing a craft beer re­search pa­per and had reg­u­lar con­tact with clients in the field, and he could see the ex­tent of change in the hops in­dus­try.

Of the farm’s 160 hectares, 35 will be con­verted to hops – 15 hectares are al­ready planted and the re­main­ing 20 near­ing com­ple­tion. The 2020 har­vest will be at full ma­tu­rity.

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