6 January 2016
The passing of Farm Environment Awards founder Gordon Stephenson is a huge loss for New Zealand agriculture, Simon Saunders, chairman of the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust (NZFET), says.
“Gordon was a farsighted and inspirational leader. As a passionate advocate for conservation he was steadfast in his belief that good farming and good environmental management go hand in hand. This message is still very much at the heart of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) today.”
Mr Saunders says the establishment of NZFET and the success of the BFEA programme are legacies of Gordon Stephenson’s drive and vision.
“NZFET is very saddened by Gordon’s passing. The Trust extends its heartfelt condolences to Celia and family.”
Mr Saunders says Mr Stephenson was a pioneer in the field of farm conservation and “a huge driver of change”. He made farmers take a much closer look at what they were doing on farm and showed them what could be achieved through good environmental management.
“Gordon wanted people to think about the long-term effects of their farming practices. He challenged farmers to ask themselves if what they are doing now will be sustainable in 100 years’ time.”
Mr Stephenson first mooted the idea for the Awards in 1991. He saw the competition as a way to recognise farmers who were trying to balance farm productivity with environmental protection. A key aim of the Awards programme was to encourage farmers to think about sustainability.
In recognition of Mr Stephenson’s foresight in establishing the Awards programme, the trophy presented to each year’s National Winner bears his name.
Mr Saunders says Mr Stephenson’s quest to promote and reward sustainable farm management practices is the basis for all NZFET activities.
As well as founding the Farm Environment Awards, Mr Stephenson was also a key instigator in the establishment of the QEII National Trust. He lent his time and skill to many other community and farming organisations, including Federated Farmers and the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust.
Mr Saunders says the former Waikato dairy farmer was a very effective communicator.
“Anyone that was lucky enough to spend time with Gordon was inspired by his enthusiasm and his ability to translate powerful and sometimes complex messages into words that were easily understood.”
In recent years, despite his age and declining health, Mr Stephenson continued to take a keen interest in the Awards programme.
“He loved meeting and talking to all entrants and award-winning farmers, and they were often moved by what he said. He was one of New Zealand agriculture’s truly great characters and he will be sorely missed.”