14 April 2020
2020 finalists: Robert & Cate Willis of Bobcat - Dairy.
Fourth-generation Southland farmer Robert Willis was brought up on his family’s sheep farm, however it was cows that really caught his interest and led to the conversion of this dairy property. The fully self-contained farm is a high-performing dairy unit set against a stunning backdrop of native plants and wildlife.
Robert and Cate entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards as a way of understanding and learning new farming practices.
Converted from sheep to dairy almost 20 years ago, the Riverton property now runs 340 dairy cows that are managed by a contract milker. As the farm has been developed, cow numbers have grown, production has lifted, and ambitious goals around efficiency and profitability have been reached. Having a manager enables the Willis’s to live off-site and follow other ambitions, with Robert currently working as an ambulance officer.
Enhancing the environment was a priority during the conversion, with all creeks, streams and sensitive areas fenced, plus a comprehensive planting plan implemented. The judges commended the property’s laneways, and tree planting that includes extensive shelter in every paddock. A passion for native plants is evident, including the extensive riparian planting that encourages wildlife while preserving water quality and ecosystems.
Robert and Cate are continually striving to reduce the farm’s long-term environmental footprint, particularly in areas where it can be informed by science. For example, a sophisticated system enables effluent to be discharged to soils – reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers – and stocking rates are regularly reviewed.
Caring for the cows has led to the exploration of innovative farm practices that improve animal health – many of which were introduced ahead of modern regulations that made them compulsory. Meanwhile, a close eye is kept on the management of soil and fertiliser, and extensive drainage has been completed over the past 17 years.