31 August 2015
Ashburton sharemilkers Sara and Stuart Russell have always strived to make their dairy operation as sustainable as possible. Entering the Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards helped them confirm they were on the right track.
“We wanted to see how our business compared with others, and we wanted to find out what we could do to improve in future,” says Sara.
She and Stuart, a former builder, 50:50 sharemilk 700 cows on 252ha (effective), south of Ashburton. The farm is owned by Sara’s parents Rick and Diana Bourke via the Bourke Family Trust.
The Russells entered the 2015 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) and won the LIC Dairy Farm Award in their first time in the competition.
“We were blown away to win the LIC award,” says Sara.
“It was great to know that the judges liked what we were trying to achieve.”
Last year’s LIC Dairy Farm award recognised the dairy farmer who demonstrated in a practical way the choices made to farm for the long term. Judges took into account the wise use of land, labour and capital resources, and they also considered the effects of dairy farming on both surface and groundwater and its impact on soil properties.
BFEA judges were impressed with Stuart and Sara’s strong work ethic, clear focus on productivity, innovative nutrient management and excellent staff management.
Sara says they always consider staff and the environment when making key management decisions.
She says winning the LIC Dairy Farm Award was a welcome endorsement of their operation.
“It was great to get such positive feedback from the judges. Stuart loves talking about the farm and we both really enjoyed the judging process. The judges gave us some very useful advice on how we could improve our business in future, and we have taken on board their ideas.”
One tip they immediately implemented was putting shade cloth under the sawdust in the calf shed, to improve drainage.
“The judging process made us take a good look at our business and think hard about what we are spending our money on. That’s been a valuable exercise because in times like this, we have to watch our farm expenses very carefully.”
Sara says the awards evening was another highlight.
“It was brilliant to meet so many people from different farming types. We found it quite inspiring.”
She and Stuart definitely plan to enter the competition again.
“We’d certainly recommend it to other farmers. It’s an amazing experience.”
Entries for the 2016 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards close on 1 October 2015. Entry forms are available online at www.bfea.org.nz
This year the LIC award has changed so as to also recognise the important role that heard improvement plays in a sustainable farming business.
“While best practice environmental management has always been linked to long term sustainability, herd improvement also has a key role to play in that it helps our farmers breed animals that are efficient converters of feed to milk,” LIC chief executive Wayne McNee says.
“Smart use of breeding, culling, animal health, selection pressure and reproductive management can help drive herd improvement and in turn, deliver an efficient and highly profitable herd and farming operation.”
In addition to what the award has recognised in the past, the judges will also consider how entrants demonstrate high standards with regard to herd improvement, reproduction, animal health and welfare through the use of excellent herd recording. Considerations will be made around the sustainable use of the land, stock, labour and capital resource available or created.