Being named Supreme winners in the Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards was good news for a dairy farming couple badly affected by the Northland floods
Heavy flooding in late March left half of Evan and Sherleen Smeath’s Hukerenui farm under water, causing considerable damage to fences and pastures.
Prior to the flooding the Smeaths had been visited by the Ballance Farm Environment Award judges who were impressed by the “exceptionally well-maintained farm which is being managed in a sustainable manner by a couple with an obvious love of the land and wider area.”
They farm 167ha of flat to steep contour and milk 260 Jersey cows on a milking platform of 105ha.
Evan and Sherleen bought the self-contained unit in 1978 and over the last three decades they have lifted production from 13,000kg Milksolids to 90,000kg MS while making numerous improvements to the farm.
The BFEA judging report describes the Smeaths as forward-thinkers who are perfectionists in “everything they do”.
It also noted that the Smeath’s high producing herd has an exceptional milk quality record. The top cow in the herd is doing 500kg MS, and the couple aim to get the herd average to 370kg MS per cow. They winter milked for 14 years but are now shifting back to a spring calving.
As well as lifting production the Smeaths have also focused heavily on improving the farm’s sustainability. About 90% of streams and drains have been fenced, with further drains constructed on the side of steep tracks to reduce erosion and stop tracks from washing out.
An extensive drainage system allowed the Smeaths to winter milk on a farm that would otherwise be too wet for this regime.
Trees are also planted in areas prone to slipping and stock are kept off erosion-prone areas.
Fences are well maintained, trees are well trimmed, weeds are under control and pests are kept to a minimum through trapping and hunting.
Best On-Farm Practice manuals are closely followed and the soils are carefully managed to avoid damage and nutrient run-off. Young stock are grazed on the hills to minimize pugging and erosion, and cows are ‘stood-off’ during very wet periods - usually on a feed pad.In their judging feedback report the Ballance Farm Environment Award judges comment that the Smeaths are “highly aware of the limitations of their land”. The report also notes the couple’s “exemplary’ approach to long-term planning, documentation and the use of management tools. It says the Smeaths demonstrate an excellent understanding of the nutrient cycle and nutrient budgeting, and a good understanding of micro-organisms and soil biology. It describes the Smeaths as an “articulate, affable and personable couple who demonstrate good use of expertise and sources of advice as well as providing advice to others and consideration for succession and lifestyle balance”.
It also noted that both Evan and Sherleen, who have three grown-up children, show significant pride and satisfaction in what they have achieved.
As well as winning the Supreme award, the Smeaths also took out the Ballance Nutrient Management Award and the LIC Dairy Farm Award.
A field day will be held on their farm in mid May.
Other category winners in the 2007 Northland Awards are:
PGG Wrightson Habitat Improvement Award: Mataka Station, Bay of Islands
Northland Regional Council Water Quality Enhancement Award: Bruce and Helen Bell, Ohaeawai
Tawapou Coastal Natives Family and Community Life Award: Bryce and Heather Lupton, Trewin Bros Ltd, Maungaturoto
Hills Laboratories Harvest Award: Leonie Batt, Ngunguru
PPCS Livestock Award: Peter and Pam Kelly, Dargaville
Gallagher Innovation Award: Latimer farms, Parakao