The first 125 hectares of land Wallace Jones bought at Wharepoa near Thames was so flood-prone the locals said he would have been better off in jail than trying to farm it.
He had emigrated from Somerset in England in 1875 and initially bought a 140-hectare dairy farm in Frontier Road, Te Awamutu, where he milked 26 cows by hand.
He married Nancy Starrat in 1895 then, when fertility on the farm ran out, they moved to Taranaki in 1900, droving the herd down.
They farmed Maori lease land and the herd grew to 110 cows. Wallace became a director of Riverdale Dairy Co-op.
They moved back north in 1905 and bought the land at Wharepoa.
Wallace died in 1913 and his son Wallace Francis Jones bought another 125ha farm on Rawe Rawe Road on the Hauraki Plains in 1917.
That property has just been approved for Century Farms status, having been run by the same family continuously for 100 years.
His son, 87-year-old Ken Jones, remembered how stock were swapped between the two properties around Christmas to quell the effects of copper deficiency and peat sickness.
“It was amazing to see how quickly their coats changed,” he said.
“The last half inch would go brown.”
Another problem was fescue foot, where high ergot levels in that grass meant cows’ feet could easily get infected.
Ken still had well-kept letters of his father’s, writing to his bride-to-be Daisy Sage, telling her every detail of his search for a suitable house to move onto the peat land as former gold mining housing became available in Waihi.
That house, still there today, was where Wallace Francis raised his family of five.
They started off milking 80 cows through a 10-bail, walk-through dairy and carting cream to the bottom of the road to go by river to the Kopu butter factory until one was built at Ngatea in 1920.
Sons Arthur and Ken both went to Massey and Arthur bought the farm in 1953.
The dairy was extended to a 16-aside herringbone in 1974 then a 42-aside in 1993.
Artie, Arthur’s son, bought the farm in 1994, a year before his father’s death and still lived in the old homestead.
He added several adjacent blocks and now milked 620 cows producing 190,000 kilograms of milksolids under a DairyNZ system 2 operation.
But flooding was still one of the biggest production constraints though the peat had now compressed.
“Some of the farm is 1.5 metres below sea level and in March we lost 40ha underwater for two weeks,” he said.
It was resown then another heavy rain meant all that work had to be redone.
His son, Sam, who was developing a dairy and kiwifruit property at Opotiki, was likely to be the fourth Jones to be in charge of the farm.
Ken bought another 116ha dairy farm of his father’s close by in 1954 and had since added to that with both dairying and kiwifruit purchases.
Century Farm and Station Awards co-ordinator Mel Foster said there had regularly been 30 to 40 applications a year for recognition since the awards were set up in 2005.
“Returned soldier settlements will soon be coming through and we’ve had one of those this year,” she said.
Plaques denoting farms’ status were presented at a dinner in Lawrence, Central Otago, in May. About 200 people, many making it a family get together, attended.
“Everybody is very proud of their history and there are fascinating stories of some of the hardships they’ve gone through,” she said.
“It’s great we can acknowledge that on the night.”
So how would Wallace Francis Jones feel about the farm gaining an award to mark its 100 years in family ownership?
“He’d be quite chuffed,” Ken said.
“Who wouldn’t be?
“My father always said that you buy peat land for the next generation.”