Working Farms

What are the basics of organic farming? Organic farming is all about working in with the environment to achieve desired results, rather than the total suppre...
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Working Farms

The following advice is of a general nature only and intended as a broad guide. The advice should not be regarded as legal, financial or real estate advice. You should make your own inquiries and obtain independent professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances before making any legal, financial or real estate decisions. Click here for full Terms of Use.

What’s important when buying larger farms?

If you’re thinking about buying a full-scale working farm, consider these factors…
  • You’ll need to understand local planning guidelines concerning zoning, permitted uses, animals, land care (controlling noxious weeds & pests). The local council will be able to clarify your questions
  • Check fences, sheds, water pumps, dams, drains, bores, irrigation, water supply, tanks, house and general infrastructure meets your needs and ascertain whether they have council approval
  • Soil and water – do they meet your required standard or need further tests?
  • Markets – will you need to transport livestock or produce to markets? Consider the distance and costs involved
  • Be realistic about your knowledge and skill set
  • Weeds and pest infestations can be expensive to eradicate. Check neighbouring properties, access roads, adjoining state forests and water sources. Ask an agronomist if you have concerns before buying a rural real estate or a farm.

What do I want to farm?

There are many different kinds of farms in New Zealand.  Traditionally known for sheep farming, New Zealand now has a large number of dairy farms, producing milk (and resulting products like butter and cheese) for domestic and export markets. Other New Zealand farm types are beef farms (raising cows and bulls for their meat), deer farms, pig farms, poultry farms, and horticultural and fruit growing farms.
When choosing a type of farm, consider the amount of work required with each farm type, and the lifestyle (and financial) level you hope to achieve.  A poultry farm, for example, may require less daily effort to maintain and run than a dairy farm, which requires cows to be milked daily, but it may produce less income.  You should consider whether you'll work alone on your farm or employ others, and have an understanding of how the markets for your products will grow or shrink over time.
It's also important to think about the kind of farming you would likely enjoy the most.

Where do I want to buy a farm?

Once you’ve decided on the type of farm you want to purchase, you’ll need to decide where that farm should be located. Some things to consider when buying are:
  • Your farm location will be partially determined by the type of farm you are buying. In Northland, beef farms are common. The Waikato and Taranaki regions mainly contain dairy farms. Sheep farms exist across New Zealand.
  • Land prices (and council rates) should be key factors considered.  Prices and rates will differ from region to region, so research prior to purchase is advised.
  • Established farming areas (like the Waikato and Canterbury Plains) will likely have better access to farming support services such as veterinarians, livestock transport, fertilizer, financial advice, and bio-security and pest management.  Newer farming areas may have fewer amenities available.
  • Consider the location of your farm relative to markets or abattoirs.  If you need to transport livestock or produce to markets, the distances to these locations from your lifestyle farm will affect the resulting transport costs.
  • If you decide to purchase a dairy farm, you'll need to consider how you sell the milk that is produced.  You may decide to sell at the farm gate, to a small local dairy firm, or to a large dairy co-operative like Fonterra.  There are advantages and disadvantages of each option, so you may wish to get advice from a financial planner, or other established dairy farmers.
  • Your health and age may dictate your ability to work, and / or the level of city or town amenities you need access to.  With a lifestyle farm, you're living on the farm itself.  Make sure that the location of the farm is not just good for farming, but is also going to meet your personal location needs.

What sort of regulations do I need to understand before buying a farm?

Most environmental management issues are handled by the 16 Regional Councils in New Zealand.  Local councils are then responsible for land-use zoning.
Farming must be undertaken in compliance with a number of local, regional, and national regulations. These regulations cover land zoning and permitted land uses, animal welfare, land care, pest control and environmental impact, amongst others.
It's important that you understand all relevant regulations thoroughly.  Contact your local council or legal advisor for guidance.

What do I need to check once I’ve found a potential farm for sale?

  • Check the farm’s fences, sheds, water pumps, dams, drains, bores, irrigation, water supply, tanks and any other key infrastructure for any damage or signs of wear and tear. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, get help from an experienced farmer or farming infrastructure expert.
  • If buying a dairy farm, thoroughly check the milking shed, milking equipment and tanker access roads.  These items will come in for regular heavy use, and they can be costly to replace or upgrade.
  • Ask to see the most recent soil nutrient and water test results.  Water tests should cover both irrigation sheds and dairy sheds.  The results of these tests will indicate whether the farm has been well managed by its current owners or needs investment to improve soil and water quality.
  • Check that effective pest controls are in place, and that regular work has been undertaken to control rabbits, possums, ducks, geese, and noxious weeds. You should also check nearby farm properties, access roads, and adjoining land and water sources for any potential pest trouble spots. You may wish to employ the services of an agricultural specialist to assist you with this.
  • Make sure the farm house and general farm infrastructure meets your own personal living needs. If not, check that the property has appropriate council approvals and council zoning for any future development.
  • Check that phone lines and electricity lines are in place, and their condition.  If these utilities are not connected, investigate the accessibility of these services to your location, should you wish to install them in future.
  • Check for flood plains and areas with access problems or water shortage.
  • If there are any easements or rights of way through your property, check their condition, and ensure that they are correctly noted on your property Certificate of Title. Even if these paths or roads have not been used for some time, usage by others may affect your ability to fully enjoy the land you purchased.

What is a farm clearing sale and how might it affect a rural property I buy?

When you buy a farm, you need to understand specifically which farm assets, equipment and consumables are included, and which are excluded.  Unlike small residential properties, farm properties may have items (like tractors and farm implements) lying across the entire farm, belonging to the current owner.  When you view the farm, you may see these items and assume they are included in the purchase price, but this is commonly not the case.
Some farmers may have a farm clearing sale (similar to a residential garage sale) on the property, to sell off excess farm equipment and other items.  This could occur before or after you sign the purchase contract, due to typical handover timeframes. Check the farm comprehensively when you undertake your pre-settlement inspection, and ensure that you've received all items you believe you have paid for.

What do I need to know to become a farmer?

Farming can be hard work, and it often requires specialist knowledge and skills.
If you don’t have farm management experience, consider investing in a farm management course. The Primary Industry Training Organisation is the body accredited by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to deliver skills assessments and training to New Zealand's primary industries.
Several New Zealand universities like Massey University (in Wellington) and Lincoln University (in Canterbury), offer specialist farming agricultural courses.  Some of these courses are specifically targeted at farm management, and can help you when buying and setting up a farm, or taking one over.  The courses cover necessary farm theory, and also provide hands-on practical farm training exercises.
As a less-thorough alternative to courses, various New Zealand farming industry bodies including Dairy NZ, Beef & Lamb New Zealand, and Horticulture New Zealand can be contacted for advice and information.

What if I need to buy farm equipment?

Once you've bought a farm, you may decide to invest in farm equipment. You can purchase new farming equipment, or buy second-hard farm equipment (which is often cheaper, but may have a shorter useful life remaining).  The following guidelines will help you to decide the most appropriate option:
Features and specifications:
  • Research what features and specifications are available (online or in print) for the farm equipment you wish to purchase.
  • Make a list of the features that are must-have, nice-to-have and unnecessary for your needs (including power and fuel considerations).
  • Focus on the must-have features when searching for farm equipment.  Buying higher priced equipment with better or additional specifications may help the resale value for that equipment in the future.
  • Ask about the attachments that are available for your farm equipment.  These attachments can make your farm equipment more versatile.
Value and future costs:
  • Research available pricing for your equipment online or in-store, so that you don’t pay too much. Consider auctions for buying second-hand equipment, but ensure you understand true market pricing, to ensure you get a bargain.
  • Research different brands for different types of farm equipment. No one manufacturer is the best for every type of farm equipment you'll need.
  • Consider farm equipment dealer support locations. If it’s the type of farm equipment that will need regular maintenance, factor any ongoing fees into your costs of ownership. Buy brands of equipment that you know can be serviced within a convenient distance of your farm at a reasonable price.
  • Consider your likely level of use of the equipment. It may be ok to buy cheaper brands if your use of the equipment will only be light. It's worth investing in better brands for more heavy uses, where quality is important.
  • If attachments aren’t included with the base unit, make sure you can easily obtain these at a reasonable cost. Versatility may save future expenses.
Condition and quality
  • Check the condition of farm equipment carefully, to correctly assess value.
  • Electronics on farm equipment must not be obsolete or unserviceable locally.  Electronics that cannot be serviced could render the equipment worthless.
  • Watch out for smoky or hard to start engines, gears that won’t engage or structural problems like cracks and fractures in frames and plated areas. These are red flags that often point to much bigger problems.
  • If you’re not a farming expert, take someone who is with you to inspect the farming equipment you intend to buy (new or second hand).  Their experience could stop you from spending money unnecessarily on faulty farm implements, or on equipment that isn't suited to your intended task or usage.

What else do I need to know when buying rural land?

The definition of rural land includes any land that is used or intended to be used for the grazing of livestock, dairy farming, poultry farming, grape growing, orchards, beekeeping, horticulture, the growing of crops of any kind, and vegetable growing.

This intended usage makes the soil quality and land slope more important than the land you buy for a family home.  Some important issues to keep in mind are:
  • Is the land surrounding the lifestyle block you want to purchase used mainly for agriculture, commercial purposes or private use?
  • Does the property already have appropriate Council approvals and the correct zoning for any external buildings or other developments you have planned?
  • Consider your own health and age. Will you have regular need for medical facilities and services that are only found in cities and regional centres?  Does your new rural location have a doctor or medical centre nearby?
  • Does the Sale and Purchase Agreement for your lifestyle block include any required licenses such as water usage rights etc?  It's very important to make sure that you know what is, and what is not, included in your purchase.  Get legal advice if you are a first time lifestyle block buyer, to minimise risks.
  • How easy will it be for you to have utilities such as power, gas, sewage and phone connected to your lifestyle block?  What costs are involved?
  • Check for flood plains, areas with access problems or limited water supply.
  • Check for any easements or rights of way that may be through the property. Even though they may have not been used for some time, their use by others can affect your own usage rights.
  • Check that effective noxious pest controls are in place on your land. Pest eradication can be expensive, so prevention is usually the best approach.

What should I check for when buying undeveloped rural land?

If you are considering buying undeveloped rural land, check the following:
  • Water tables, depth, quality and reliability
  • Closeness of utilities like water, gas, electricity, telephone and any costs to bring them to the land / property for installation and maintenance
  • Local road maintenance and accessibility, and any potential costs to connect these up to the property
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