16 November 2011
Southland farmers Willie and Phillipa Menlove didn’t enter the Ballance Farm Environment Awards to win prizes. They entered to learn more about sustainability.
As it turned out, their 2000ha sheep, beef, deer and dairy support operation, north of Lumsden, collected two category awards in the 2011 Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA). But that was just the ‘cherry on top’ for what proved to be a rewarding experience for the couple.
Willie has run his family’s third-generation farm ‘Sweetacres’ for 18 years, and during this time he and Phillipa have undertaken considerable development work.
The aim of the project, initially started by Willie’s father Ted, was to lift the farm’s carrying capacity and improve long-term profitability.
BFEA judges noted the “huge investment of time, money and planning in fencing lanes, developing 250ha of grass from tussock, irrigation on the flats, taking on dairy grazing and creating an associated water scheme. This has changed the balance of the farm, increasing options and income.”
Willie admits much of the development was done “using trial and error”. But care was taken to retain areas of native tussock and these areas now act as buffer zones to improve water quality.
He says a key reason for entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards was to get an outside opinion of the farm.
“We’ve never been ones to stick our heads above the rails. But we’ve done a lot of work over the last 18 years and we felt it was time to find out what other people thought of it.”
Feedback from the BFEA judging team was extremely positive, reassuring the Menloves they were on the right track.
Willie says the judging process was “a no-pressure situation” and he enjoyed listening to the advice offered by the expert judges and the detailed feedback report they provided.
“It was more like a general discussion. I still contend the judges did much more work than I did. All I had to do was show them around the farm for half a day and try not to tell any lies.”
Willie says the process of preparing for the awards was a worthwhile exercise “because it made us reflect on what we had done and where we were heading”.
On awards evening, the Menloves were named winners of the Ballance Agri-nutrients Nutrient Management Award and the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award.
This caught Willie off-guard because he hadn’t prepared anything to say at the podium.
Despite this, he and Phillipa thoroughly enjoyed the “well-run” awards evening. He says the entire awards experience was extremely beneficial for their farming operation.
“The competition seems to get bigger and bigger each year. But a lot of people who enter it aren’t in it for the prizes, they enter because they want to learn about sustainability and find out if they can do better.
“I’d definitely recommend the competition to anyone.”
The Ballance Farm Environment Awards are open to agricultural, horticultural and viticultural businesses. Entries for the 2012 Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards close on December 9, 2011. For more information or an entry form contact BFEA representative, Helen van der Linden, ph 03 204 2015, 0272 767 616 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust or the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone 07 834 0400, or email email@example.com.