15 February 2019
Extensive networking opportunities were a highlight of the 2018 National Sustainability Showcase for East Coast supreme winner Andrea Barry.
She owns BEL Group, a dairy company based in Central Hawke’s Bay. She entered Parkhill Dairy Farm in the awards – one of nine farms under the BEL Group management umbrella – that was one of the first farms converted by Andrea and her late husband Peter in 1994.
Andrea won the award with Parkhill manager Craig Pennell, who managed the property for three years but has moved on from the company.
BEL Group’s general manager Cameron Gillatt, pictured with Andrea above, started with the company just before the win after 15 years working overseas. “There have been huge changes environmentally. The pressure is on farmers. Change is coming and coming fast. We all need to front foot it as soon as we can.”
He says the Ballance Farm Environment Awards are like a friendly audit. “They’re always going to find things wrong or things that can be improved. But that continuous improvement is part of the reason people enter.”
Andrea says the judging process also made them look at the property through different eyes.
“It also made us look at the little things you don’t notice on a regular basis but that don’t take a lot of time to remedy.”
After winning the East Coast title in March and hosting a successful field day in April, Andrea and Craig and other members of the BEL Group team went to the Showcase in Wellington. They saw presentations from the other 10 regional winners. One quote from a fellow dairy farmer stands out in Andrea’s memory.
“He said ‘I’m a farmer and I’m proud of that. I’m a dairy farmer and I’m proud of that too.’ Dirty dairying has had such a bad rap. But we’re dairying. We’re not dirty. I’m proud to be dairy farming.”
Improving that image was one of the reasons Andrea wanted BEL Group properties to enter the awards, particularly Parkhill.
“It’s a beautiful property that deserves to be showcased. I’m ready to show it off,” she told the judges last year. “We haven’t entered environmental awards in the past because of people’s perceptions of dairy. Here’s our chance to change that.”
Since the start of 2019, BEL Group has employed a consultant to help it formulate a 10-year regeneration plan across the nine farms, looking at issues such as planting, fencing, carbon credits and extending the existing QEII National Trust covenants.
Another 2018 East Coast finalist, representing BEL Group’s Ellingham Farm, was Andrea’s son Robert, who along with wife Alison, have recently moved into a new full-time role leading the company’s sustainability programme.