14 April 2020
2020 finalists: Chalky and Lesley Leary of Onga - sheep and cattle breeding.
Owner-operators Chalky and Lesley Leary have had a stake in Onga since 1973 and have set up an innovative succession plan that integrates forestry with sheep and beef. Forestry was originally introduced to control gorse that smothered the property and now provides a high-value revenue stream.
Onga was entered into the Ballance Farm Environment Awards as a way of reflecting on how it was performing, plus to demonstrate the good work being done by farmers.
Along with running sheep and beef, the farm has 118ha of radiata pine that brings in an average yearly income of $100,000. The judges were impressed with the integration of afforestation and pole planting within the landscape as solutions to erosion and gorse. Chalky has received the McKee Cup for farm forestry and the judges commended the farm’s policy to produce high-quality logs.
Onga is now virtually gorse-free and boasts significant new infrastructure, including a new woolshed, an innovative cattle yard system and airstrip. Three blocks of native bush are protected with QEII National Trust covenants and, for shade and erosion control, native bush is continually being fenced off and poplars planted. Other priorities are actively managing possum and deer, along with soil and water conservation, including the installation of silt traps.
When none of the Leary’s children were keen to take over Onga, it was leased – during which time Chalky went into local government and a nephew expressed interest in the property. The judges noted Chalky’s contribution to the local community through roles including Mayor of Rangitikei District Council.
The judges commended the succession plan that has now been established, saying it will provide an income for their children as well as support his nephew and his partner as they move toward farm ownership.