10 October 2014
Southland farmers Mark and Deborah Hamill entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards because they wanted to tell a ‘good news story’ about dairy farming.
The Hamills converted their 301ha sheep and beef farm, near Gorge Road, to dairying in 2008 and now milk around 800 cows on a 241ha milking platform.
Mark says he and Deborah had been approached in the past about entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards but the 2014 competition was their first go.
“To be fair, we didn’t feel we were doing anything special,” he says.
“But one of the key reasons we entered was because we were sick of all the negative stories about dairying in the media. The people generating these stories were basing them on emotion and not facts, and that really got up my nose.”
Mark and Deborah wanted to show others that dairy farmers do care about the environment.
“I know my neighbours feel the same way. If you don’t care about the environment and your stock, you don’t have a farm.”
Deborah also had a personal reason for entering.
“I’m very proud of what my husband has achieved on this farm. We were proud to be sheep farmers and now we are proud to be Fonterra suppliers. So I thought we had a good story to tell.”
The Hamill family has farmed in the region since 1888 and Mark and Deborah and their three children have continued the environmental work started by preceding generations. This includes fencing and protecting about 30ha of native bush, wetland and riparian areas.
Ballance Farm Environment Award (BFEA) judges described ‘Folly Farm’, which sits near the southern Southland coastline, as a “beautifully presented farm”.
Mark and Deborah are passionate about the ecosystems in the river, creeks, bush land and wetlands across the property, judges said.
They also noted the Hamill’s great pride in their family heritage, and the family’s strong association with their land and their community over the past 125 years.
The Hamills were awarded three category awards in the 2014 Southland BFEA, including the PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award, which focuses on the all-important ‘people-side’ of the farming business.
Deborah says while winning all three awards was very encouraging, the PGG Wrightson award was of special significance “because it recognises all the people that have been involved with our farm and all the relationships we have built up over the years. These things are an important part of our journey.”
She says one of the key advantages of being involved in the competition is that it “makes you look back at where you have come from and where you are now, and then it makes you think about where you will be in five years’ time”.
Mark and Deborah included their three children in the BFEA judging process. Both sons are studying agriculture at university.
“We feel it’s vital to invest in our children and involve them in the business. They are our succession plan.”
Mark says the Ballance Farm Environment Awards are unique because they don’t focus solely on production and profitability.
“They also look at the social and environmental factors that are a crucial part of the whole farming picture. That sets it apart from other competitions.”
He says the BFEA play a key role in highlighting the positive sides of agriculture.
“As farmers, I think we have a responsibility to showcase what we are doing. People in town need to hear about the good things happening on the farm.”
Entries for the 2015 Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards close on November 21, 2014.
Entering the competition is easy and entry forms are available online at www.bfea.org.nz