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Forward-Thinking Farming Partnership Claims Top Environmental Prize

2 April 2009

Forward-Thinking Farming Partnership Claims Top Environmental Prize

South Wairarapa farmers Tim and Jo Loe are the Supreme winners of the 2009 Greater Wellington/Wairarapa Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
The annual awards celebrate those people who are farming in a manner that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
At an awards ceremony on April 2 the Loes were also announced winners of the LIC Dairy Farm Award, the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust Habitat Improvement Award and the PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award.

The couple oversee management of a partnership-owned dairy unit and support block in the Kahutara district, south of Featherston.
Ballance Farm Environment Award judges described the venture as "a well organised farming operation". It's a dairying business that ticks all the boxes for Fonterra's best farm practises, the judges said, and "the owners have created a strong net equity, a viable and sustainable structure".

'Oporua' was originally a large sheep and beef unit when Tim Loe, a former Cantabrian, took over its management 22 years ago. Farm owners Alfie des Tomb and Simon Crawford of Wellington proved to be excellent business partners and the Loes have continued to foster good business relationships and innovative partnerships on their road to farm ownership.
One block of the original farm is now a 189ha (163ha effective) dairy farm, owned since 2005 by Tim and Jo and two equity share partners. The 202ha support block two kilometres up the road is used for a combination of cropping, supplementary feed and finishing/grazing. It is leased in a long-term arrangement from Alfie des Tomb and Simon Crawford.

When the dairy unit was converted 15 years ago, Tim and Jo went straight from being drystock farm managers to 50:50 sharemilkers. They did all the development for the conversion, milking 326 cows in the first year. That number has now lifted to 528 Friesian cows, with production of 190,000 to 194,000kg MilkSolids achieved in the past few years. Over half of the farm has irrigation and contour is flat with a small area of sand hill ridges.  The leased block is used for growing crops of barley or peas for sale, triticale silage for the herd, and rearing and finishing bull calves.

Tim and Jo, who have raised four children on the farm, made their first step towards farm ownership two years after it was converted, when, in a novel arrangement, they put up capital for a new farmhouse. Three years later they added their cows and machinery into the arrangement and became equal thirds partners with the Wellington owners. Four years ago the original owners decided to sell the dairy unit. Jo, by now a rural and residential real estate agent, marketed the property and a successful new equity share partnership was formed with Bruce McKenzie and Mike Falloon.

The farm has come a long way since Tim first arrived and began developing it into a productive unit. But he has been careful to protect four blocks of native bush, which were recognised as containing rare lowland species. The first block fenced is regenerating "quite nicely" and bird life is growing. The main house on the farm backs onto this bush which, the judges said generates "impressive aesthetics".

Tim, who runs the operation with the help of three full-time staff - Rob Vickers (dairy unit manager), Ray Fryer and Josh Lloyd - farms under the expectation that farming activities will be increasingly restricted and regulated to meet consumer demand. He uses the Overseer programme and annual soil tests to determine precise fertiliser requirements for selective areas. Nitrogen use is kept to a minimum.

Irrigation is limited at certain times of the year and the judges commended Tim's efforts to protect the soil and minimise pugging. "There is a good understanding of the property's soils, both in terms of productivity and risk factors." Judges noted the innovative pond system used to counter the heavy iron content in the farm's water supply. They also commented on the Loe's community involvement over the years. This has ranged from Playcentre establishment through to rugby coaching.

A field day will be held on the Supreme award-winning farm in May.

Other winners in the 2009 Greater Wellington/Wairarapa Ballance Farm Environment Awards were:

Ballance Nutrient Management Award and Hill Laboratories Harvest Award: Ngawaka Vineyard (Roger Parkinson and Mike Kershaw)

Silver Fern Farms Livestock Award: Danny & Jo Houston/Keith & Shona Maslin, Eringa

Gallagher Innovation Award: J R’s Orchard (John van Vliet and Jamiee Burns)

Akura Conservation Centre Lifestyle Farm / Small Block Award: Alan & Dot Bissett, Wee Red Barn