The National Bank Country Calendar

7:00pm Saturday, July 31 on TV One

The National Bank Country Calendar celebrates the success of local label, Sacred Hill Wines.

Sacred Hill Wines is the product of a dual love of land and drinking fine wine. The winery’s original vineyards are planted in the Dartmoor Valley west of Napier, on country that was once the Mason family farm. The first planting, in the early 1980s, was a diversification away from sheep and cattle. “It took a lot of tenacity to continue,” says Sacred Hill managing director, David Mason. “The original vineyard was repeatedly wiped out by drought, flood and then Cyclone Bola.”

At the same time as their parents were trialling grape growing, David Mason and his brother Mark were discovering how much they loved wine. Together with winemaker Tony Bish, they decided to establish their own label. “We really did think that if we could make more wine than we were drinking, we could sell the balance to fund our ongoing exploration of fine wine,” says Bish.

Twenty years on they have more than achieved that goal, as The National Bank Country Calendar learned when it filmed the 2010 grape harvest.

The founders did a lot of experimenting with vineyard plantings and wine styles as they pursued their goal of making distinctive wines that go well with food. The original winery was housed in a machinery shed on the Mason farm but today Sacred Hill has a state-of-the-art winemaking facility on the outskirts of Hastings.

That’s a bonus for Tracy Haslam, David Mason’s wife, who is a winemaker in her own right and has developed the Ti Point brand. Her vineyards are in Northland but she makes her wine at Sacred Hill where she can draw on the expertise of staff.

That support also frees Tracy up to focus on her other two passions – her four young children and horses. Tracy learned to ride when she was young and is giving her two sons and two daughters the same experience.

She and David see advantages in raising children in the country. “They have the opportunity to take risks and learn independence a little earlier than in town,” says David.

Over the years, Sacred Hill has planted vines on top grape growing soil in other parts of Hawke’s Bay, but its original Dartmoor Valley vineyards continue to produce some of their best known wines.

That includes regular award winner Rifleman’s Chardonnay, which is grown in a spectacular vineyard overlooking the white cliffs of the Tutaekuri River. Sacred Hill uses very few sprays on its grapes and will this year achieve nil residues in its fruit. “It’s incredibly important to us, says Tony Bish. “It’s about looking after our place. We live here and our staff work here so eliminating sprays is a good thing.”

7:00pm Saturday, June 12 on TV One

Ever since he was a young man David Buick has had two goals. The first, to own a farm, the second, to earn a place in a Golden Shears final. Income from shearing has helped him to get a farm – but earning a place among New Zealand’s elite shearers at the country’s premier shearing event has so far proved more elusive.

This week’s episode of The National Bank Country Calendar (tonight at 7pm on TV ONE) follows Buick in his build-up as he prepares to go for glory at Masterton’s Golden Shears. This year was the competition’s 50th anniversary and 130 open-class shearers – including Buick – lined up to seek the Grand Champion title.

Farming and shearing go hand in hand for the Buick family. Buick’s dad, Willy, has always shorn his own sheep and as the children came along, they were expected to help out in the family woolshed.

Buick’s dad says that by primary school age, his son knew all the shearing ‘blows’ – the pattern of 40 or so cuts made with the shearing hand-piece to remove the fleece neatly from each sheep. He says he used to rehearse his shearing technique on his brothers and sisters, and began pleading for a hand-piece of his own from the age of nine.

“Father Christmas gave him one when he was about 12,” he says. “It turned out to be a pretty good investment.”

Buick and wife Rebecca have run their 200-hectare property at Pongaroa, in northern Wairarapa, for nine years. Shearing helped get the capital to buy the farm and keep it through some tough times.

As well as farming, Buick also organises a local shearing gang. Shearers can earn up to $1.80 per sheep and those with daily tallies over 300 can earn good money. Income aside, Buick says few young men and women seem to be attracted to the sweat and guts that shearing demands. “There are not that many jobs where you go to work with eight litres of water and come home with the same amount in your sweat-towel,” he says.

For shearers at the very top level, the income is just one of the attractions of the work. In summer the elite shearers – those who can shear 400 or more a day – start getting their ‘show’ gear ready for a round of competitions that culminate in the Golden Shears. Rivalry is a natural extension of the job. Put two good shearers side by side and pretty soon they are racing each other.

Despite suffering from competition nerves, Buick made the top six of a big event in Te Kuiti last year. He knows that to get into the Golden Shears final, he will to have to be shearing at his absolute peak – and The National Bank Country Calendar was on hand to follow his progress at this year’s event.

7:00pm Saturday, May 8 on TV One

On tonight’s episode of The National Bank Country Calendar (TV ONE at 7pm) meet Otago Peninsula farmer Perry Reid, who is passionate about looking after the birds and seals he shares his land with, and decided to turn a chunk of his coastal farm into a wildlife sanctuary.

The Reid family bought the 200-hectare property near Portobello ten years ago. But on arrival, the property needed a lot of work says Reid, “it was like starting a project from scratch,” he says. “There was hardly a fence that held a sheep and gorse was a major issue – it was five metres high in places.”

But hard work has put paid to that. Along with their children, the Reids have tamed the gorse, and last year they planted over 17,000 trees, marking the start of a reserve that they hope will become a native forest filled with bird life.

When Reid took the property over, he could see nature was under threat and from day one he had a plan to help the wildlife a flourish, without interfering with the natural order. He sums up his plan in two words – hands off. While some similar conservation ventures handle the wildlife for weighing and tagging, the Reids do not.

“The plan wasn’t to create something, it was to give it back and let nature create its own story,” he says. “What I’m doing is giving it the canvas, and nature’s painting the picture.”

And it seems to work. When the Reids arrived there were just 17 breeding pairs of yellow-eyed penguins on the farm’s main beach – but ten years on, that number’s grown to 60 pairs.

With penguin numbers growing, the Reids had the idea to create a small tourist business to supplement their farming income, which would also capitalise on the natural beauty of the place. And having shared the rural life and wildlife with visitors, it’s grown beyond their imagination. Tourists from all over the world now arrive at the Reid’s front door to get face-to-face with some of the rarest penguins in the world.

Because the wildlife have never been handled or tagged, they have no fear of their human on-lookers. A colony of spotted shags living on the edge of a cliff have the tourists spell-bound, and the fur seals next door – particularly the pups – are a favourite with sight-seers. But the Yellow-Eyed Penguins are the stars of the show. Waddling up the beach, oblivious to the coach-load of onlookers, they’re living proof that Reid’s strategy of not interfering with the creatures can have huge success.

So are they tour operators or farmers? It’s obvious that tourism is the more lucrative, but Reid insists money’s not the motivation.

“The farm is obviously worth a lot of money, and if this was money I was doing it for, I’d just sell it and go and sit on a beach in Hawaii,” he says.

“But that’s not what I want. I want to leave a legacy for my children and your great grandchildren. I want something we can leave the earth.”

7:00pm Saturday, April 17 on TV One

Not many farmers can boast about looking after 200 million stock units, but one Central Otago man can – and what’s more, they all have wings.

This week’s episode of The National Bank Country Calendar features Hawea beekeeper Peter Ward, who has 4000 hives scattered through Central Otago, South Westland and Southland.

A third-generation beekeeper, Ward has been fascinated by bees since he was at school – so choosing a career was easy. But after many years in the industry, he had had enough of wildly fluctuating returns for his honey exports. He realised that to stop his honey being treated like a commodity, he needed to create added-value products.

Ward started by exporting specialist products such as manuka, rata, and thyme honey, but his biggest breakthrough came when he began blending honey with other natural products, all aimed at the health food market.

One big success is honey mixed with pure fruit juices, which sells well to health-conscious Europeans. Another innovation is a spread blended from honey and jam. His company, the New Zealand Honey Co, now exports over 90 per cent of its production to Europe and Asia from its Dunedin processing plant.

Ward also raises queen bees – a delicate, time-consuming process that has taken him years to perfect. He needs 1000 queens a year for his own hives and raises additional ones to sell to other beekeepers.

Ward has expanded into other rural interests as well. He and wife Dawn own a 300 hectare farm at Hawea. The soils are good, but the area can suffer long dry spells which make cropping a risky business and even running sheep problematic. So they’ve installed an irrigation system which has allowed them to diversify. Now, the dry summer pastures have been replaced with lush feed, ideal for rearing dairy heifers brought in from Southland.

7:00pm Saturday, March 6 on TV One

The National Bank Country Calendar tonight sees West Otago sheep farmer Allan Richardson and his attempt to eliminate drenching and dagging sheep (at 7pm on TV ONE).

Richardson says cutting back on dagging means he can avoid one of farming’s less pleasant tasks – but reducing the need for docking has a bigger impact on the farm’s profitability.

Richardson, and wife Sonia, who farm 1300 hectares at Heriot, have been working for many years to breed sheep that remain healthy and grow fast, without needing to be drenched – their sheep have developed their own natural resistance to parasitic worms in their gut.

While Richardson’s efforts to breed sheep with no wool in the crutch area and only a residual short tail, are also starting to produce results – a significant proportion of his elite flock did not have their tails docked as lambs, but despite that, need minimal or no dagging.

He says one of the many benefits is new lambs that don’t need to have their tails docked are less stressed, so they put on weight faster. But he warns, hobby farmers shouldn’t be tempted to stop docking their lambs’ tails, because the combination of a normal-length tail and wool in the crutch area will lead to a build-up of dags – and eventually to flystrike, causing the lamb much discomfort and possibly killing it as flies lay eggs in the contaminated wool.

The Richardsons run two separate flocks – one conventionally farmed, the other organic. With a foot in both camps, Richardson believes conventional and organic farmers need to stop treating each other with suspicion, and can learn from one another if the lines of communication are kept open.

But he says conventional farmers need to think carefully about switching to organics as they need to be prepared to devote a lot of time and planning to make the change.

Missed an episode of The National Bank Country Calendar – full episodes are available online. Go to tvnz.co.nz and click the ‘ondemand’ button.

7:00pm Saturday, February 27 on TV One

Tonight The National Bank Country Calendar heads to China (at 7pm on TV ONE), where New Zealand expertise is helping develop a fruit with world-wide market potential.

The luo han guo looks a bit like a kiwifruit – but it has completely different qualities. New Zealand scientists have found a way to extract a natural fruit sweetener from it – one with zero calories – making it an attractive addition to yoghurts, drinks and cereals.

To develop the new product, Hamilton-based BioVittoria Ltd has created an international company drawing on New Zealand, American and Chinese capital and expertise. The joint venture has built a processing factory in Guilin in southern China, where thousands of farmers are now growing the fruit under contract.

The new product, called PureLo, is the result of a long-running friendship between two plant scientists – Dr Garth Smith from New Zealand and Dr Lan Fusheng from China. The two worked together in New Zealand and Guilin on a number of horticulture projects before focusing their efforts on the luo han – a pulpy fruit known in southern China for its medicinal properties, and traditionally used to make a sweet tea.

Dr Smith developed a method of extracting a product from the fruit that is 300 times sweeter than cane sugar, but PureLo’s biggest selling-point is that it has no calories. Smith explains how in luo han, the sweetness is tied up in a complex molecule – so it tastes sweet on the tongue, but the human digestive system can’t absorb it.

BioVittoria Ltd already sells the product to international food manufacturers and expects sales to increase now it has completed its new factory.

Aside from processing the fruit, the joint venture company also grows hundreds of thousands of new luo han vines to supply farmers every year. The crop has traditionally been grown by Guilin’s hill tribes, but BioVittoria is encouraging farmers on the more productive flat-lands to plant larger plots to meet anticipated demand for their new product. The National Bank Country Calendar filmed the most recent harvest, in the northern autumn.

To fund its expansion, the company tried to raise more capital late last year on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, but it failed to attract sufficient new investors and the float was abandoned. It now plans to seek private equity, mainly from overseas.

Dr Smith, who has spent most of the last six years in Guilin, says there’s huge potential for more co-operation between the two countries. He says New Zealand expertise is highly regarded in China – but the Chinese are catching up fast, and we need to make the most of our opportunities while they last.

Missed an episode of The National Bank Country Calendar – full episodes are available online. Go to tvnz.co.nz and click the ‘ondemand’ button.

7:00pm Saturday, February 20 on TV One

Molesworth Station is New Zealand’s biggest farm – an iconic 180,000 hectare stretch of land that runs from Marlborough into Canterbury. For stockmen, it’s a vast landscape that offers some of the most challenging and spectacular mustering in the country. They’re part of a tradition that goes back for a century and a half, since the early pastoralists first pushed stock through the area on their way from Nelson to Canterbury.

The station is the amalgamation of four sheep runs that were handed back to the Crown when their owners walked off in the 1930s and 40s, overwhelmed by environmental problems – the worst being rabbits that destroyed the pasture for their sheep. Manager Jim Ward is the third person to run the station since it became one property. Along with the demands of running the country’s biggest farm is the added challenge of managing what is essentially a high-country recreational park. Every summer, about 7000 tourists come through the farm when the Molesworth – Hamner Road opens after Christmas.

Tonight, The National Bank Country Calendar (at 7pm on TV ONE) head souths to witness musterers bring back stock that had spent the winter at Lake McRae, near the Inland Kaikoura Mountains.

It is always a challenge to find 400 heifers in 16,000 hectares of steep hills and gullies, but these days the job is made easier. Before the muster starts, Ward does an aerial reconnaissance trip with local helicopter pilot and former Molesworth staffer Phil Packham.

But nothing can help with the biggest barrier – the muster crew have to persuade the cattle to climb out of the Awatere Valley and over a 1500 metre saddle – one of the highest stock routes in the country.

Packham’s chopper also plays another role on the station. It is part of an innovative programme being run by local farmers and scientists to try to rid the area of bovine tuberculosis. The disease is largely carried by possums who pass it on to the cattle.

But tackling the problem on Molesworth’s rough landscape was for a long time considered too hard. The breakthrough came when scientists started using wild pigs to identify where the TB affected possums were. Ward now has high hopes that the property will soon be clear of the disease, cutting costs and opening up new markets for the farm’s beef.

Ward says Molesworth has its own special character he hopes every New Zealander manages to visit once in their lives. “It belongs to them and we hope that they can come through, have a look and be happy with what’s happening here.”

See the muster at Molesworth Station, tonight at 7pm on The National Bank Country Calendar.

7:00pm Saturday, February 13 on TV One

Confucius said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”, and Wellington cray-boat captain Tony Muollo thinks Confucius must have been a fisherman. Muollo, whose family has fished Cook Strait for nearly a century, features in the first episode of the new series of The National Bank Country Calendar, tonight on TV ONE (at 7pm).

Muollo says if he stops fishing for more than a couple of days, he gets withdrawal symptoms: “I get a bit stir crazy.” During the summer months, the series has revisited some of its most popular recent shows, but this week marks the start of 26 new programmes.

Producer Julian O’Brien promises a wide range of topics – everything from high-country musters to market gardening. “We’ve found some great people involved in amazing activities,” he says. “Some of them are continuing old traditions, but others are doing something completely new.”

Among this year’s more unusual subjects will be a family growing organic blueberries, and a former city couple who milk their own buffalo to make mozzarella cheese. The programme will also look beyond Kiwi shores with visits to rural China and Samoa.

This series will be Country Calendar’s 45th year on air, so it’s fitting that the first episode in the new series is about a man who’s keeping long-held traditions alive, says O’Brien.

The National Bank Country Calendar follows third-generation fisherman Tony Muollo aboard his vessel ‘Bonny Kay’, in Cook Strait.

Finding Muollo’s cray pots isn’t simple. The pots have buoys attached, but the powerful Cook Strait tides often drag them below the surface. With only a short window when they’re not submerged, Muollo has to time each run just right, or the buoys will rise and fall again before he can check the pots.

“Sometimes they don’t come up at all. If you get it wrong, you don’t make money – and that sort of thing makes you learn pretty quick,” he says.

Back at their Wellington factory, his brother John spends the day on the phone – and before Muollo and his crew have even landed their catch, the crays’ will have already sold to buyers in Hong Kong and China.

There’s a long fishing tradition in Wellington’s Island Bay. Muollo’s father fished there, taught by his father before him, who came from Sorrento in Italy in 1922.

It’s a tradition Muollo is very aware of. “To be able to make a good living out of fishing, and work the same grounds your grandfather did nearly a hundred years ago – I feel hugely proud of that.”

Missed an episode of The National Bank Country Calendar – full episodes are available online. Go to tvnz.co.nz and click the ‘ondemand’ button.

7:00pm Saturday, August 15 on TV One

Bay of Islands long-line fisherman Dale Coker believes New Zealanders don’t appreciate the value of the marine riches on Kiwi shores – and he’s set out to make some changes.

Coker, who features on the final episode for 2009 of The National Bank Country Calendar (tonight at 7pm on TV ONE), has spent more than 30 years catching tuna, and he’s tired of seeing it all sent to overseas markets, when Kiwis could be enjoying it themselves.

He’s started bottling and selling albacore tuna that he’s caught on his own boat, Pegasus II. The new enterprise was a challenge to get started – it involves cooking the tuna inside glass jars and initially, scientists told Coker it couldn’t be done. Having overcome all the technical issues, and gaining Food Safety Authority approval, he carries out the process at his fish shop at Haruru Falls, near Paihia.

Coker says the best thing about the process is that it preserves the tuna’s very high levels of Omega 3, which many now see as a health wonder-food. There’s a growing view among many scientists that the fatty acids found in some fish – particularly tuna and salmon – are valuable ‘brain food’, he explains, and says his bottling process ensures the Omega 3 remains intact till the tuna is eaten.

Coker believes New Zealand is sitting on a very valuable resource which hasn’t been fully recognised or exploited – Tuna are migratory, and unlike most fish, they’re warm-blooded. They build up supplies of Omega 3 when they move south to feed in the colder waters near New Zealand

He says Kiwis still see snapper as the ultimate fish to eat, but they need to learn there’s a wealth of other seafood options. “There’s nothing wrong with snapper – it’s great eating and very good for you – but people have got to realise that some other types of fish are even better.”

However, he says there will only be a future for tuna if it’s harvested in a sustainable and ecologically sound way – and that is why he’s participated in trials of new techniques to reduce or eliminate the chances of long-liners catching seabirds such as albatrosses.

The methods which The National Bank Country Calendar team captured aboard Pegasus II include, a shooter mechanism makes the line go straight down behind the boat, rather than trail behind; safe-weights that ensure the hooks sink quickly; and dying the squid bait blue so the birds don’t recognise it and dive after it.

Saturday 1 August, 7pm

Every year in May, 20 of the nation’s most succulent sirloin steaks are laid out on a table in Fielding. The steaks are carefully fried to medium rare, rested, then tasted by panel of judges. The ‘Steak of Origin’ event pits farmers, wholesalers and retailers from around the country against each other to find the nation’s champion steak.

Tonight, The National Bank Country Calendar takes a look at this year’s event through the eyes of Wairarapa cattle breeder, Joe Fouhy (at 7pm on TV ONE).

Fouhy says he used to give little thought to the people who would eat the meat he was producing: “Once the truck left the farm, we figured we’d done our part.” But the ‘Steak of Origin’ competition has made farmers like Fouhy take more interest in what consumers think of their product.

Most people can tell the difference between a tough and a tender steak, but the competition brings some science to that judgement. Sirloins entered in the ‘Steak of Origin’ are sent to Lincoln University for assessment. Each entry is tested for marbling, pH, and percentage cooking loss. Samples are also put through a machine that mimics the human bite to measure tenderness. The top steaks from those tests are then put before a series of tasting panels to find the top 20 that will go to the final.

Fouhy first entered the competition in 2004 and won the top award. He repeated the feat the following year. That success set Fouhy on a path to marketing his own meat. He wanted to get more for the beef he was producing and found a supporter in Woodville butcher John Shannon.

Shannon believes that New Zealand farmers are capable of producing meat that’s amongst the best in the world, but he says not enough is done to market it. The men are now partners in two retail butchery shops in the district that sell Fouhy’s beef.

Joe Fouhy selects animals for processing, and he and wife Leah often help behind the counter in the Pahiatua store. Fouhy says there’s a great deal of satisfaction in having direct contact with customers who are buying and eating their meat.

The retail experience has also given them some valuable lessons for back on the farm. He says he now realises meat processors need farmers to provide them with a consistent product right through the season.

“What I’ve learnt is that regardless of the kind of year I’m having on the farm – droughts, hard winters, not enough grass – I’ve still got to deliver the best possible quality I can manage.”