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Farm Environment Ambassadors Go On Tour to Promote Sustainability

5 November 2012

Farm Environment Ambassadors Go On Tour to Promote Sustainability

‘Good things take time’, was the key message delivered by the National Winners of the 2012 Ballance Farm Environment Awards, Blair and Jane Smith, to some of the nation’s leading politicians.

In October, the North Otago farmers addressed the Primary Production Select Committee in their role as ambassadors for good environmental practice.

The address to the multi-party parliamentary committee was part of a six-day tour organised by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust.

“We were able to tell our own humble story,” Jane says, “and we also talked about the positive and proactive things that are happening in the wider farming community to improve environmental sustainability.

“A key message we wanted to get across to the committee is that ‘good things take time’.”

Blair says projects that enhance environmental sustainability can take years and often involve considerable investments of time, labour and money.

“It’s long-term work, and farmers need to be given time to do it properly. They want to be encouraged rather than regulated.”

He says the Ballance Farm Environment Awards are important because they showcase the good work of farmers to the wider community, while also providing mentoring guidance.

During their tour the Smiths met with a wide range of agribusiness and industry leaders and representatives from various regulatory bodies. The trip enabled them to give a personal perspective of some of the issues and opportunities facing farmers.

“It was great to be able to sit down with these people and discuss some of the challenges in front of New Zealand agriculture.”

One of the biggest of these is how to get more young people into the industry.

“It’s helped us that we’ve always surrounded ourselves with good farming mentors, says Jane.

“We like to see ourselves as mentors as well. But we do worry about where the farmers and agribusiness professionals of the future are going to come from.”

However, the Smiths are heartened by efforts being made by industry organisations like Beef+Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ to encourage young people, especially those from urban backgrounds, to consider agriculture as a career.

Jane says scholarship programmes offered by companies such as Ballance Agri-Nutrients were also assisting people to study agriculture at tertiary level “and become the agricultural scientists of the future”.

Blair and Jane were impressed with some of the “great ideas” coming out of the New Zealand industry groups and agribusinesses they visited.

“It made us realise that many rural organisations are willing to share information for the benefit of the industry,” Blair says.

But a clear highlight of the tour for the Smiths was the chance to meet Gordon Stephenson –the founder of the Farm Environment Awards – and his wife Celia.

“Meeting Gordon and Celia was an amazing and emotional experience.”

Next year the Smiths will travel overseas to represent New Zealand as ambassadors for agriculture and environmental sustainability.

Jane says a key focus of their trip will be on learning more about emerging markets for New Zealand produce.

Organised by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, the trip will be supported by a range of industry groups.

For more information on the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, phone 07 834 0400, emaildavid.natzke@nzfeatrust.org.nz.

Photo: Left to Right: Professor Mike Hedley, Blair and Jane Smith and Byron Taylor at Massey University.