Thursday, 1 September 2016

Bluff Station Tracks the Changes

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Ag Journalist Ken Strugnell talks to Hamish Murray about Promax Polyflo Culverts

At the midway point between Kaikoura and Blenheim the main road,  State Highway One crosses the main trunk rail line at Kekerengu. Just inland is Bluff Station which rises from 40metres to well over 2000meters above sea level. The homestead is closest to the sea while the rest of the 13,800 ha station is accessed via a 38km stock and 4WD track.

Recently I spent some time with the Hamish Murray who along with his parents Richard and Sue run the steep Bluff Station, high country block.

I was there to find out how a few ‘plastic pipes’ could make a difference to the management of this huge farming enterprise.

The main artery for the farm is the track, built in stages over many years. About three years ago the Murray’s made the decision to renew and take the opportunity to realign a small section of it. As it is a vital link to and through the farm it was critical to do the job with both workmanship and materials that would last for 50 years or more.

Management of water cascading down from the hills above the track was a major issue that needed addressing to both keep the track dry and prevent erosion.

Hamish was keen to show me what they had done. So we jumped into the farm truck to take a look at what had been achieved and how the Promax Polyflo culverts were working.

The upgraded 3.5km traverses sheer cliff faces and manuka covered bluffs. The new track will now allow truck and trailer units, to cart stock and fertilizer deep into the main body of the station all year round.

The earthworks were on a truly impressive scale with slope both sideways for runoff and incline carefully sculpted to ensure maximum utilisation.

Hamish reminded me that in the last week they had received 420mm of rain as he pointed out the slip on the farm as we drove the new section of track. It was a bright sunny Saturday afternoon and yet most of the track was as I suggested “able to be walked on in socks” It was dry and smooth.

He went on to proudly show me the reason. Everywhere that water was cascading down the inside slope of the track the Murray’s had placed a culvert. “We needed quite a few, more than twenty at last count and they had to go under a very wide track” Hamish said.  In places the track was only 5 meters wide, but on corners and areas that slips might occur the width increased to over 8 metres.  “This is our only access to the farm and we can’t afford to be cut off, it just has to be open all year round. We deliberately made it wider than needed for vehicle access so we had plenty of space for large mobs of cattle to move easily without fear of stock pressure causing accidents”, he said.  “In the past we’ve used hollowed out 44 gallon drums, concrete pipes, spiral welded steel and some smooth surface plastic culverts, but as you can see we now have these black poly ones to do the job”.

All of the various new culverts in several sizes were easily dispatching the volume of water gushing down from the sides of the track.

Having spent some time out on the farm it was time for a cuppa and to find out more about Bluff Station.

“Well we run 8000 merinos and over 900 breeding cows and young stock and the track is our lifeline to the farm which has been in the family for nearly a century.  When we decided to do this section of track I did some research, I even read the Stockman, and I also had a long chat with CRT team in Kaikoura. They have many clients who have used the Polyflo Culverts and are reporting that they work well. So CRT recommended them and suggested I have a talk to Promax direct, though CRT would order and organise any Polyflo Culverts I wanted. In talking with Nathan at Promax, we worked out what was needed and even better it turned out that they could plastic weld the pipes to the lengths that suited us.

So even though the standard culvert is 2.7 metres we had most of them made into 8.1 metre continuous lengths with some at 5.4 metres. Being very light and one piece allowed us to fit them quickly and easily, with two guys. This reduced the cost to us both in labour and machinery, as we had previously used up to four men to put in the much shorter concrete pipes, we used recently for some repair work. On hill country or difficult access light weight and ease of placement s is a real bonus. Steel or concrete would have both taken longer and required the other machinery to get it on site and into position.

One of the other key points we appreciated is that they are ribbed, providing both strength and equally important stabilising the ground. This helped consolidated the track.” said Hamish.

“I expect these to last more than my time on the farm and the fact they won’t rust out or corrode and are virtually maintenance free makes them ideal for our situation”.

It was clear Hamish and his family had put both thought and resources into the vital lane that is the lifeblood of the property. The newly installed Promax Polyflo Culverts have addressed an issue for them and I’d expect as other parts of the track receive attention over the years they too will get the latest technology from Promax.