Farm sustainability is a factor in just about every decision Otago dairy farmers Alistair and Josanne Megaw make.
“If we do this, how will it impact on the sustainability of our operation in future?” is the question the Megaws constantly ask themselves when determining farm policy.
Their carefully considered approach to whole farm sustainability earned the Tapanui farmers the LIC Dairy Farm Award in the 2006 Ballance Farm Environment Awards. They also won the Ballance Nutrient Management Award.
Award judges were particularly impressed by the way the Megaws achieved a balance between stocking rate, herd size, and soil and pasture management in a bid to optimise cow performance without compromising available resources.
Alistair says their involvement with the awards was a great learning experience. “The main reason we entered was to pick up more knowledge on environmental issues and to find out how we were doing compared with others.”
Situated in a strong sheep area and converted in 1994, the Megaw’s farm milks 500 Friesian cows on 215ha. It produced 265,000kg of Milksolids in 2006/07.
The soils are mainly deep silt and silt loams which are carefully managed to promote worm activity and avoid compaction. Pressure on the soils during winter is alleviated through the use of well constructed feed pads, and effluent from these pads is collected and irrigated back onto paddocks.
The Megaws use a nutrient budget to plan fertiliser inputs. As well as making good financial sense, this also reduces the risk of nutrient overloading.
Alistair says the nutrient budget is regarded as a key farming tool “and not just something that sits in a drawer”. He has developed a sound understanding of soil tests and nutrient budgets, but is not afraid to call on expert advice when necessary. His management plan also ensures that Nitrogen is applied at sustainable levels. This, combined with an effluent application plan, minimises the risk of nutrient leaching into ground or surface water.
Improving the water quality of a stream that runs through the farm has been another major challenge for the Megaws. With help from Otago Regional Council they have fenced off the stream and embarked on an extensive tree planting programme. The existing willows and poplars that grew alongside the stream are also trimmed regularly to reduce the risk of debris build-up if the stream floods.
A duck pond on the farm has also been fully fenced and is being planted with many varieties of trees and shrubs.
Another area of the Megaw’s operation to receive praise from the Ballance Farm Environment Award judges was staff management. They have three full-time employees and all are well trained in on-farm systems and health and safety. Employees get plenty of time off and are encouraged to participate in off-farm training.
BFEA judges also noted the Megaw’s well thought out succession plan “with good vision into the future”.
Alistair says he and Josanne are pleased they entered the competition and he would encourage other like-minded farmers to give it a go. “Don’t be scared of the judging process. We found all the judges to be very friendly and they had a lot of good advice to offer.”
Entries for the 2008 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards opened on November 1 and close on December 15, 2007.