Episode 21 - Steaking a Claim
On the next episode, screening 5 Aug 2018 at 7pm on TVNZ 1:
It’s not hard to track down the Morton family when you arrive in Katikati.
Naturally they live on Morton Rd, named after Kenneth Morton, an immigrant from Britain who established a farm here back in 1883. He farmed sheep and beef and also had a brief spell of milking dairy shorthorns.
His grandson is another Kenneth Morton, though these days everyone calls him Ken. Ken is now 83 and he still heads out every day onto the family farm to work.
He argues that at his age none of the alternatives to farming are palatable and he’d much rather be out with his sheep, cows and bulls than cooped up inside.
And why not? The Mortons’ farm enjoys beautiful views across the water to Mt Maunganui.
Ironically, it’s the farm’s stunning location that makes it increasingly challenging to stay there. The Bay of Plenty real estate boom has seen its value skyrocket and the rates are now substantial.
Ken and his wife Betty are constantly approached by land agents and their clients, keen to convert the livestock farm into kiwifruit or avocado orchards.
They are both adamant that the farm is not for sale, because it offers them more than money ever could. It is a place they genuinely love, having built their family home here 60 years ago, and they’ve no intention of living anywhere else.
Their son Craig does most of the work on the Morton farms. Together he and his parents run sheep and cattle and have a shorthorn stud.
Ken and Betty own the main farm, 72 hectares of mainly flat, fertile paddocks. Craig and his wife Maree own 113 hectares of more rugged land nearby.
Ken says that as he has started to slow down with age, Craig has done a fine job of stepping up.
The family all credit Maree with a recent change that has increased the profitability of the sheep and beef enterprise.
It stemmed from a clash of styles between Maree and Craig after they married a decade ago. They soon found that they couldn’t work in close proximity.
They both say they’d prefer to stay married than try and work in the same paddock.
Once their daughter Emma was a toddler, Maree found herself a new challenge, selling meat. She teamed up with a butcher and sold the Mortons’ own lamb at Tauranga Farmers Market.
After 18 months, a corporate customer approached her with an offer that the family couldn’t refuse.
The Hip Group own many restaurants and boutique food outlets in Auckland and they wanted the Mortons to supply lamb and beef on a weekly basis.
Now most of the meat leaving Morton Rd ends up being served in a Hip Group restaurant. The group pays a premium but the Mortons have had to change their farming model to suit weekly deliveries.
While the sheep and beef operations generate most of the farm’s profitability, the Morton family’s biggest passion is its beef stud.
When Betty married Ken 62 years ago she insisted they should do more than just fatten stock and send them to the works, so they chose to focus on New Zealand’s oldest cattle breed, the shorthorn, thus reconnecting with the farm’s earlier history.
The experiment has proved successful and the Mortons’ shorthorns have a worldwide reputation within the breed.
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