Words by Richard Rennie, images supplied by NZFET.
Covid-19 may have made the usual Ballance Farm Environment Awards ceremonies impossible this year for most regions, but certainly did not diminish the quality and commitment of this year’s award entrants.
Now in their 27th year, the awards have come to represent a high point in the farming careers of those who have entered and been recognised for their efforts, while support for the awards has also grown from within the agribusiness sector.
This year marked the first for Ruralco stepping up as a strategic partner with the award organisers, the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust.
Two regions were fortunate enough to recognise their award nominees before Covid forced the national lockdown, with East Coast and Canterbury holding their ceremonies in the conventional way.
This year’s Canterbury supreme winners also share close ties to Ruralco.
Tony Coltman, Ruralco director and his wife Dana Carver claimed Canterbury’s supreme award for their outstanding efforts on their Canlac Holdings dairy operation at Dunsandel.
They also claimed the Bayleys People Award, DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award and the WaterForce Wise with Water Award.
The couple’s ability to manage nitrogen in one of the country’s most sensitive catchments was a key reason for their recognition, and something they continue to work on despite already making significant headway in nitrate reduction.
The regional plan required them to lower nitrate losses by 30%, and they have achieved a 48% reduction.
The East Coast supreme award went to Central Hawke’s Bay beef and deer farmers Evan and Linda Potter who were recognised for their “do it once, do it right” approach to protecting their farm’s environment. This has included extensive fencing, water investment and bridging on a very environmentally challenging property.
The couple have included 125ha of QEII bush covenant within their property and an extensive native replanting programme beyond that area.
After these two regions were announced, Covid-19 prevented further award evenings being held in the traditional manner.
Farm Environment Trust general manager James Ryan said the decision to postpone the remaining events was difficult but necessary.
But thanks to some innovative thinking award organisers ensured there was still a sense of occasion for the remaining nine regional winners.
“We decided to continue with the awards themselves by holding the remaining BFEA functions on-line through April and May, screening them live and also available through YouTube. We were determined to keep up the recognition of our other nine regional winners.
“We enjoyed good viewership and engagement through both media and YouTube for those events.”
James says despite the unexpected interruption Covid-19 bought to proceedings, this year’s awards have still managed to uncover some superb examples of humble New Zealand farmers and growers who have been quietly investing in good land management practices.
Often they have been doing so for many years before deciding to step into the relative limelight of the awards.
Ironically the Covid-19 lockdown disruption helped highlight the valuable role farmers like the BFEA winners were playing in helping New Zealand weather one of the most damaging economic storms ever experienced.
“The lockdown highlighted the critical role New Zealand farmers and growers play not only in feeding New Zealanders, but in generating valuable export income that many countries lost over the crisis,” says James.
“For the first time in a very long time food security has become a big issue, and these awards help highlight how important our farmers and growers are and how much they care about the land they rely upon.”
Meantime as many people engaged in sectors like hospitality and tourism find their jobs have gone, agriculture and horticulture are providing much needed opportunities across several regions for those seeking a new career or seasonal work.
In the South Island, Otago award winners were Anna and Ben Gillespie at Omakau on their beef and dairy grazing operation. They were recognised for how their work headed off potential negative environmental impacts, including buffer zones, use of precision irrigation and “right pasture, right time” approach to grazing.
They had also established two new wetlands and an on-site nursery for growing native seedlings to plant out on the farm. The couple also claimed the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award and the WaterForce Wise with Water Award.
Southland farmers Geordie and Frances Eade claimed the region’s supreme award on their Riverton sheep and beef breeding and finishing farm.
On their Granity Downs property they have protected large areas of native vegetation and taken their efforts to the local community by demonstrating and showcasing good practices in their local catchment group.
They have also balanced this with excellent monitoring and management to achieve high yielding crops and pasture output.
Field days at the winning properties are now being planned throughout the country.
The awards would normally have a ceremony to announce the supreme national winner of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy. James Ryan says this will still go ahead but has been delayed until the new year and will include a revamped programme for the next round of awards.
“Celebrating the successes of our farmers and growers has never been more important. But we're also looking to work with our partners more closely to ensure farmers get the feedback they need to navigate with confidence in a changing world,” says James.
Ruralco chief executive Rob Sharkie says the co-operative has been delighted to become a strategic partner with the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust for the awards, and it was a particularly timely one.
“The New Zealand Farm Environment Trust recognises the innovators of farm sustainability from a social, economic and environmental perspective,” says Rob.
“Part of our commitment to our shareholders is to share best practice across all aspects of farming. To do this effectively, we partner with the leading organisations who demonstrate the value of what they are bringing to the industry.”
Rob says Covid-19’s impact on lifting awareness about farming and its critical role in underpinning New Zealand’s economy has also made sponsorship worthwhile.
“Anything we as a co-operative can do to showcase the excellent work being done by farmers and growers throughout New Zealand, to our fellow kiwis, is worth pursuing,” he says.
A full list of winners can be found on line: https://www.nzfeatrust.org.nz/award-winners