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Decision to Enter Ballance Farm Environment Awards Pays Off

12 September 2012

Decision to Enter Ballance Farm Environment Awards Pays Off

Frank Portegys almost didn’t enter the Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards because he felt his family-owned dairy farm wasn’t ready.

He can see the irony in this because as a former fertiliser and dairy farm consultant he’d often encouraged other people to enter in the past. He’d even been a judge for the competition.

“So I’ve heard the excuses about the farm not being ready. I’ve always wanted to enter the Awards but we are only in our fifth season here and our riparian plantings are in the very early stages, so I was a little hesitant at the start.”

However, Frank and his wife Wendy eventually overcame this reluctance to enter the 2012 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA). They were glad they did as their Tauwhare farm, north of Cambridge, was awarded the LIC Dairy Farm Award and the Ballance Nutrient Management Award.

The LIC Dairy Farm Award recognises dairy farmers who demonstrate “in a practical way the choices that have been made to farm for the long term”. Judges take into account decisions made around the wise use of land, labour and the capital resource available or created. “Increasingly the effects of dairy farming on both surface and groundwater and its impact on soil properties are factors the judges will consider”.

BFEA judges described the Portegys’ 140ha (135ha effective) farm as “a very well-run low-input dairy farm”.

The farm is jointly owned by Frank and Wendy, Ben and Justine Cameron, and Rachel and Chresten Davis (Wendy, Ben and Rachel are siblings) under the ‘Braemar Lands’ name. It milks about 378 cows at the peak and runs a split calving system – with one third of the herd calved in autumn and the rest in spring. Last season the farm produced 137,000kg of Milksolids.

Up until buying the farm, Frank hadn’t milked cows since university. Though his extensive agribusiness experience has been valuable, he found the switch to practical farming quite challenging at first and still considers himself a learner.

So winning the LIC Dairy Farm Award was a “very pleasant surprise” because it confirmed the farm was on track as far as sustainability goes.

“I don’t think we are doing anything special here. We have just stuck to the basics and tried to do everything right when it comes to the soils, the animals, the people and the environment in general.”

Frank says BFEA judges provided excellent feedback on the farm and made many useful suggestions.

He says judging was conducted in a non-threatening manner.

“It was just a matter of having a yak as you walk around the farm.”

In their judging report, BFEA judges noted the Portegys family had made a good start to the farm’s riparian planting programme.

Frank says he has been on many farms with mature bush and extensive riparian plantings.

“It’s hard to compare these farms with those that have just started, but the important thing the judges are looking for is planning.”

He says farmers who want advice on riparian planting and other issues should definitely enter the Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

“It’s a great way of getting plenty of free advice. You’ve got nothing to lose by getting involved.”

Entries for the 2013 Waikato 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, emaildavid.natzke@nzfeatrust.org.nz.

or visit web www.bfea.org.nz