15 February 2019
2019 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Award Regional Supreme Winners Nick and Nicky Dawson have an extraordinary bond with their farm Glenelg.
“When you put work into a farm, it’s part of your life. It’s not just a job or a business. It’s home,” Nick Dawson says about his family’s 186ha Patoka dairy farm. “We could live anywhere in the world, but this is our spot.”
One of Nick’s favourite places on Glenelg is a peaceful piece of bush, right out the back. “It’s the prettiest part of the farm but it’s the hardest to get to.”
The farm was already a picturesque place with plenty of mature trees when the Dawsons relocated from Taranaki and took the helm as 50:50 sharemilkers in 2001. The Dawsons entered a 75:25 equity partnership with Opiki dairy farmers Stuart and Ann McPhail, trading as Great Glen Farming Ltd, when the farm sold in 2004. It is now a 50:50 partnership.
This partnership has given rise to some impressive results and the Dawsons have worked diligently to act on advice received from Ballance Farm Environment Award judges when they entered a previous time.
Change is a constant on-farm as the operation responds to new knowledge and its environment. The number of Friesian-cross cows on Glenelg was dropped from 500 to 360 five years ago. Production is 514kg of milk solids per cow and 1234kg per hectare – well ahead of district and national averages. Daily water use is 27 litres of water per cow in the shed; the industry average is 70 litres. Twenty percent of the farm is fully retired from grazing and stock have been excluded from all waterways. The operation will move to once-a-day milking before Christmas 2019.
A consistently low nitrogen leaching rate of 24kg of nitrogen per-hectare, per-year is monitored through a working Farm Environment Plan while the farm grows 13.5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare of grass. Minimal tillage summer crops include rape and turnips, and an in-shed feed system sees 17 percent of the cows’ diet made up of bought-in maize silage and maize grain.
Nick has recently finished a stint with Hawke’s Bay Federated Farmers, and he is a member of the Hastings District Council’s Rural Community Board, Chairman of Ospri Hawke’s Bay and on the Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay Working Committee. Nicky is a teacher in Hastings.
Of their Awards’ experience, the couple says: “We have entered these awards before and were encouraged to give it a go again to showcase dairying in a positive way. We felt our story is a robust one and one others in the dairy industry might learn from, or at least be inspired to start their own journey of sustainability.
“This time we came to the competition with the attitude of ‘just by entering, our industry wins’. We used previous judges’ comments constructively, relaxed, and really enjoyed the experience and are thrilled with the win!”
“We are at a very exciting time of our lives. After 26 years milking, we bought our farm outright, have leased a dry stock farm next door, and our son has come home with a degree from Lincoln to manage it. We hope this will be the start of our farm succession plan. Either way, we want to be successful and set the farm up sustainably for the next generations.”
Bayleys People in Primary Sector Award
DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award
Predator Free Farm Award
Waterforce Integrated Management Award
2019 East Coast Regional Supreme Winner