Though initially hesitant, Manawatu farmer James Stewart and his family are pleased they entered the Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Their farming operation, Stewart Dairylands, farms over 500ha of flat to rolling contour on the outskirts of Palmerston North. The Stewarts ran sheep and beef until 1993 when they began a gradual conversion to dairying. About 650 cows are now milked on about half of the property, with the balance used for drystock and dairy support.
James, who manages the farm with wife Debbie, says the family has always taken a conscientious approach to the environment. This includes the extensive planting of native trees over the last 20 years.
“We aren’t doing anything radical, but we try to look after the soils, the water and the animals as best we can.”
Three years ago the family was asked to enter the Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards. They deliberated for a while, eventually deciding to give it a go.
“It was a little daunting because we’d never done anything like that before. But once we’d made our minds up, we were determined to give it our best shot.”
The Stewarts put together a presentation which they felt gave an accurate portrayal of the farm and their philosophies.
“It was a very good exercise for us. The whole family got involved and it made us take a long, hard look at our business and the way we do things.”
James says the outside perspective offered by the expert judges was extremely valuable.
“We got a lot out of the judging process and the judges challenged us to think about some issues that we had never really considered before.”
As a result of this, the Stewarts have ‘tweaked’ certain areas of their farming systems.
“It’s made us take a more structured approach to our business. It’s also made us look even more closely at environmental issues, such as power and water use.”
The Stewarts were awarded the PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award in their first time in the competition.
“The judges’ comments were very encouraging and it reinforced to us that we were heading in the right direction. And it was satisfying to be able to show other people what we were doing and to get that positive feedback.”
James says the farm operates a tourist lodge that hosts many overseas visitors. The family does its best to see guests go home with a good impression of New Zealand agriculture.
“Dairying always seems to be under fire here in New Zealand. But I think the Farm Environment Awards help to give people a better perception of our industry by showing that many farmers do care for the environment. For this reason I think it’s important for dairy farmers to support the awards and show that we are doing our bit.”
He says the benefits of entering the competition make it well worthwhile.
“We don’t regret entering. It was a good experience that helps you strengthen your business.”
Entries for the 2012 Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards open on September 1, 2011. For more information or an entry form, contact Angela Rainham, BFEA regional coordinator, ph 06 355 2015/021 246 0727 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust or the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone 07 834 0400, or email email@example.com.