Ross Hewson: Keeping the Family Legacy Alive
Ross Hewson is a third- generation arable, sheep and beef farmer. Ross farmed in partnership with his brother, David, in South Canterbury until 2000 when he moved to Pendarves, Mid Canterbury to expand his arable and vegetable business, Hewson Farms.
Just north of Ashburton, we visited Hewson Farms, a 2,200-hectare property dedicated to an extensive range of arable crops, including clover, linseed, kale, wheat and ryegrass. The vegetable crops that are grown include potatoes, onions and hybrid vegetable seeds – carrots, beetroot and rape. The potatoes that Hewson Farms harvest are grown for McCain Foods in Timaru, the onions are mostly exported and the beetroot is contract grown for Carrfields and Midlands Seed.
Hewson Farms dates back to 1918, when Henry Hewson and his wife Ruth purchased a small block of land, comprising 89 hectares in Esk Valley, South Canterbury. From there, they began to run a sheep and beef operation. Henry and Ruth had two sons; Ian was a soldier, who later became a school teacher and a Presbyterian Minister, and Colin joined the Home Guard to defend New Zealand and also helped his father out on the farm.
Whilst their farm consisted of sheep and beef, Colin found an interest in arable crops, purchasing a combine harvester in the 1950s. This era was also when the wool industry was booming, so they still kept sheep as a vital part of their operation. Colin married his wife Joan in 1955 and they had five children – one of them being Ross.
After Ross’ mother passed away, he and his brother returned home in 1981 to form a partnership with their father and to help farm the land. Even though Ross enjoyed the family partnership, he preferred cropping which saw him move to Mid Canterbury to pursue his arable endeavours of bringing food to the nation, whilst keeping the Hewson Farms name.
One of the reasons Ross moved to Pendarves was to have the ability to grow more potatoes on irrigated free-draining land, which is what the Mid-Canterbury Plains are known for. In 1999, Ross and his wife Rochelle purchased a 370-hectare sheep farm, with a core focus on vegetable and arable crops. A year later, Ross installed three pivot irrigators to help mitigate the climate in summer months. Today, they have expanded their land and arable production across 2,200 hectares. In the wintertime, they run 12,000 lambs to early October and add oats to protect and improve soil health for their potatoes and onions. Incorporating sheep in arable rotations has many benefits, which includes controlling the early grazing of spring growth in ryegrass and clover crops, along with providing nutritious feed for sheep.
Hewson Farms has 22 staff, and during potato harvest time, they on-board another 12 members, which they usually get through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme. Ross and Rochelle are the owners, Andrew Scott is the farm manager, Jock Curry is the logistics coordinator, Stuart Felton is the stock manager, Joel is the operations manager and Sarah helps Rochelle out with the administration and business development for the family business. They also have a mix of tractor and truck drivers, depending on the time of year. Ross and Rochelle’s children, Joel and Sarah, are a big part of the family operation and will continue the legacy of Hewson Farms when Ross and Rochelle decide to retire.
A lot has changed since Ross started out in the arable industry. The improvement of technology has played a crucial role in increasing productivity on the farm. “What’s interesting is crop yields have continued to improve. It used to be very labour-intensive, but now two people can manage probably 1,000 hectares of arable crops for most of the year. That would have been impossible when I started – you would have had a team of people. The equipment and how you do things have improved and enabled people to do much more than they used to,” Ross said.
“I've always enjoyed crops and growing them. I used to really enjoy the machinery side, perhaps not so much now, but just the mix of it all really – growing crops is quite satisfying. You have to look after the ground that you're working on if you want to get a good crop, and there's no real compromise to that” he added.
The largest area that they grow is ryegrass, which equates to approximately 550 hectares per annum. Their second largest area is wheat, which is approximately 500 hectares per annum. Their third largest area is potatoes, totalling 350 hectares per annum, followed by vegetable seed crops and then onions.
Hewson Farms local Goldpine stores are Rakaia and Ashburton. Ross uses poles for shed builds and timber for sheep yards. “Any outdoor materials we need, we usually buy from Goldpine. The products are really good and the team are very helpful and friendly,” Ross said. The Hewsons are very family orientated, and like to spend the odd holiday together or on ski trips. Ross is very involved in rugby and the children are also right into their sports. They get involved with community events, and Ross mentioned that there’s always something to do where they live.
We’re looking forward to seeing Hewson Farms continue to pave the way in the New Zealand arable industry, and commend the work that they are doing to produce high-quality, nutritious food for our country and the overseas markets.