1 January 2010
The 2011 Ballance Farm Environment Awards provide East Coast farmers with the perfect opportunity to show how much they care about environmental sustainability, says Hawkes Bay farmer and awards chairman Bruce Wills.
Bruce, who farms an 800ha (effective) Te Pohue sheep and beef farm with his brother Scott, says he is excited the prestigious competition has come to the East Coast - a region he believes is home to some of the best farmers in the country.
In fact, Bruce was hoping to be among the first to enter the inaugural East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards, until he got "tapped on the shoulder" and asked to be the region's awards chairman.
It's a role he will relish. He has been passionate about environmental sustainability ever since giving up a 20-year banking career to return to the family farm, ‘Trelinnoe', six years ago.
"Because I'd come from a non-farming career I was very conscious of how urban people perceive farmers. I think it's very important that we can show consumers of our products that we are doing the right thing when it comes to animal welfare and environmental sustainability."
Bruce says farmers are traditionally good at responding to climatic and economic signals, but the last three years have been particularly tough for East Coast farmers.
"Hawkes Bay has never had a triple drought before and that really knocked us for six."
In response to the changing climate and the need to improve sustainability and profitability, Bruce and his brother Scott have reduced stock numbers on their farm from 10,000 stock units to 8000 stock units. They have also changed their pasture management regime so that pastures have more "top length" going into summer.
Bruce says they aim to plant 500-1000 trees every year. These trees are either natives planted in 110ha of QE II Trust land, or poplars planted around the farm for slope stability and stock shade.
They have also erected more than 20km of seven-wire post-and-batten fencing to protect steeper faces, gorges and streams.
"Out of the 85 paddocks on the farm we've only got two left where stock have access to natural water."
These efforts helped Trelinnoe win the Hawkes Bay Rural Environmental award in 2009.
Bruce says winning this award was a big thrill.
"Most farmers live a fairly solitary existence, so it's satisfying for those farmers who work hard on improving the environment to be recognised for their efforts.
"This is what the Ballance Farm Environment Awards are all about. They showcase farmers who are doing a good job and inspire other farmers to learn from them. I'm a great believer that education is better than regulation."
As chairman of the Meat and Fibre section of Federated Farmers, Bruce says he is among the first to get phone calls when farmers get it wrong.
"But the Farm Environment Awards show that most farmers are doing the best job they can."
He urges farmers to get in behind the East Coast awards and enter the competition.
"It will be a wonderful experience and it's a great way to benchmark your farm against other properties. You will learn a lot and you will meet some great people."
Bruce says every entrant that enters will be visited by three expert and independent judges who will be happy to offer useful advice.
"I think the East Coast is really looking forward to these awards. It's a great opportunity for the region to show the rest of the country that we have some outstanding farms and some excellent examples of environmental sustainability."
Entries for the 2011 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards open on September 1.
Information on the awards and an entry form can be obtained from www.bfea.org.nz, or contact BFEA East Coast regional coordinator Kate Taylor, ph (06) 8558 599, 027 603 2200, or 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, email email@example.com.