17 September 2014
The switch to a gravity-feed water system has resulted in huge cost-savings for Otago farmers David and Sarah Smith, winners of an energy excellence award in the 2014 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
The Smiths are equity managers on 1463ha Mt Watkins near Waikouaiti in eastern Otago, farming in partnership with David’s parents Rex and Glenys. The family purchased the original 920ha block in 2005 and bought another 510ha, which was previously leased, three years ago. Mt Watkins now carries up to 9500 stock units, including 5000 ewes and hoggets and 460 Friesian bulls.
In recent years the Smiths have carried out an extensive development programme designed to improve infrastructure, increase soil fertility and lift pasture performance on the steep hill-country farm. A key part of this programme included the construction of a large dam near the top of the farm to store and supply farm water.
“Before we built the dam, we had to pump river water up a 400m lift using a two-stage pumping system,” says David.
“It was a very expensive system to run and we had a lot of problems with pumps breaking down.”
Completed in 2011, the gravity-feed system saves the Smiths an estimated $1200/month in electricity costs and pump maintenance.
“It’s more reliable and it’s much more sustainable,” says David.
Ballance Farm Environment Award (BFEA) judges were clearly impressed with the Smith’s operation, describing David and Sarah as “an enthusiastic young couple with a strong desire to succeed and a real focus on sustainable development”.
The Smiths collected three category awards in the 2014 Otago Awards, including the Energy Excellence Award which recognises farmers driving excellence in utilising on-farm opportunities to generate or maximise energy efficiently.
David says they first entered the BFEA in 2009 when they were still relatively new to farming.
“We learnt a lot from that experience and I think it really encouraged us to improve.”
They re-entered again last year and were thrilled to win three awards.
David says participating in the competition confirmed they are on the right track as far as sustainability goes.
“It also highlighted some of the areas we needed to work on in future. For example, the process made us realise our farm budgeting skills were not as good as they could be.”
Sarah is now studying for a diploma in Agribusiness and this will help the couple improve their business management skills.
David says he and Sarah enjoyed the BFEA judging process, which was conducted in a relaxed and friendly manner.
“We had eight experts on our farm for free. It was a great opportunity for us to look at what we were doing and to learn as much as we could from the judges.”
David and Sarah would certainly encourage other farmers to enter the Awards.
“It’s a very worthwhile experience. And it doesn’t cost a thing!”
Entries for the 2015 Ballance Farm Environment Awards open on August 1, 2014.