8 October 2012
Winning the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award in the 2012 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards was welcome recognition for Okahu farmers John and Lurline Blackwell and their son Peter.
But it wasn’t the main reason they entered.
“We weren’t looking for glory,” John says.
“We just wanted to support the competition and learn more about sustainability.”
The Blackwells farm a 345ha sheep and beef property, southeast of Dargaville. ‘Summer Hill Farm’ runs a small but highly productive sheep flock and finishes around 400 bulls a year. The farm also runs Wagyu-cross steers and heifers on contract.
John and Lurline manage the farm with the help of their son Peter, a fencing contractor.
The Blackwells have entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards twice, winning the Livestock Award and the PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award in 2009 and the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award and the WaterForce Integrated Management Award in 2012.
The Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award recognises livestock farmers (other than dairy) who are achieving outstanding farm performance and profitability while minimising potential impacts to the environment.
Ballance Farm Environment Award (BFEA) judges were impressed with the Blackwells’ well- presented farm and the way in which the operation was managed. The Blackwells were achieving excellent livestock performance, with production underpinned by meticulous planning “and excellent shade, shelter and erosion control on the property”.
Judges also noted good long-term water planning and “first class” personal development and community involvement.
John Blackwell says he is always trialling different things on the farm.
“I’m a numbers person and I like to keep up with new technologies.”
The Blackwells were among the early adopters of techno-grazing and used this technology to intensify the bull block and simplify management.
“We can now shift 25 mobs of bulls in less than an hour.”
John says entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards provided the opportunity to benchmark the farm against other sheep and beef properties.
“We really enjoyed the experience. The judges that came round all had different outlooks and I found that quite challenging and educational.”
John has served on a range of different farming organisations and is currently a district councillor. But he likes to keep his head down when he is back on the farm.
“I think a lot of farmers are the same and they can sometimes be a bit reluctant to put themselves forward for competitions like the Farm Environment Awards.
“But we’ve learnt a lot in the two times we’ve been involved. I think it is a very important competition because it celebrates the success of farmers and also shows urban people that we are serious about environmental sustainability.
“So I would certainly encourage other farmers to enter.”
His advice to anyone worried about the possible scrutiny that comes with entering the awards is: “Don’t worry about it, just get on with it”.
Entries for the 2013 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards are now open and entry forms can be downloaded from the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust website at www.nzfeatrust.org.nz
For more information on the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, phone 07 834 0400, firstname.lastname@example.org.