Chosen from this year’s Supreme winners of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, the winner of the new National Winner title will receive a trophy named after the man who started the awards.
The Gordon Stephenson trophy will be presented to one of nine regional Supreme title holders at the 2011 New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust Sustainability Showcase in Hastings on June 25.
Jim Cotman, chairman of the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust (NZFEA), says the National Winner award acknowledges the passion, innovation and stewardship of New Zealand farmers and enables the selection of a leader to represent these values.
“Gordon Stephenson is one of those leaders who exemplifies these qualities. That’s why the trophy bears his name,” he says.
“Gordon is the inspiration behind the Awards programme and this trophy is a ‘badge of honour’ for the winner because it bestows the responsibility to maintain and pass on the long-term values that are inherent in the awards.
“The winner will become an ambassador for New Zealand agriculture”
Mr Stephenson, a Waikato dairy farmer, developed the awards as a way to recognise farmers trying to balance farm productivity with environmental protection.
While other competitions focussed solely on farm production, the Farm Environment Awards were an “all-embracing” concept that measured the economic, environmental and social aspects of a farming or horticultural operation.
The first Waikato Farm Environment Awards were held in 1993. But with the support of regional councils and key sponsor Ballance Agri-Nutrients, the awards went national in 2000.
Over the years the competition has continued to grow, innovate and build credibility. It is now supported by a wide range of sponsors and strategic industry partners.
Supreme winners become ambassadors “with the mandate to speak” on behalf of other farmers, and their farming operations are regarded as models for others to study and learn from.
Gordon Stephenson is excited about the new National Winner award.
Choosing a winner from an outstanding line-up of regional winners will be a tough job for the judges, but he hopes the winner will be held up as an ambassador for sustainable farming rather than being lauded as ‘the best of the best’.
“I think it’s important that the winner is considered to be first among equals. In accepting the award they also accept a number of responsibilities and among these is the need to have a vision for the future of farming in New Zealand.”
With a growing world demand for food, Gordon says sustainable farming practises are more important than ever.
Though semi-retired, he and wife Celia maintain a keen interest in farming and conservation. They live at Waotu, northwest of Tokoroa, on a 22ha farmlet that includes 4ha of native bush. In 1978 this block of native bush became the first covenanted by the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust. Gordon was a key instigator in the establishment of this trust. He has also lent his time and skill to many community and farming organisations, including Federated Farmers.
Looking back on the Farm Environment Awards, he says it’s enormously satisfying to see how they have grown over the last 18 years.
“I had no concept of what they would become. It’s like planting a garden. You are never quite sure what it’s going to turn out like in the end.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.