14 April 2020
2020 finalists: Robert & Verna Bourke and Conna & Nick Smith of Fern Flats - Dairy.
The Bourkes have a strong connection to Fern Flats – a property that has been in the family since 1873 – and the resulting sense of stewardship is obvious. The beautifully kept family farm continually moves with the times to ensure it remains viable – for this generation and the next.
The family entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards because they were keen to learn from others in the industry plus wanted to demonstrate their efforts to keep the farm viable.
Robert began farming at a young age, working for his parents at Fern Flats, and the business is now operated under a family trust. The property has grown in size since Robert and wife Verna took over, with them combining two smaller properties into the modern farm of today.
The judges were impressed with how the Bourkes are quick to embrace new systems as they face up to the challenges of a small-scale dairy farm. With the help of 50:50 sharemilkers – daughter Conna Smith and her husband Nick – the Bourkes were early adopters of once a day milking, a move that has improved their lifestyle. The judges also commended them for the health and wellbeing of the cows, saying the stock’s friendly nature made it obvious they are well cared for.
There is a strong focus on reducing the farm’s environmental footprint, with the couple following a low-input farming system that includes breeding highly productive cows. They have planted about 18ha of trees under the Emissions Trading Scheme, and the judges were impressed with the significant planting of wetlands, riparian margins and shelters that is encouraging bird life to flourish. In addition, a sophisticated, ring water system means every paddock has water.
The Bourkes are continually striving to improve their farming practices, seeking external advice on such things as nutrient management and succession planning.