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Specialist Crop Growers Scoop Supreme Environmental Award

26 March 2009

Specialist Crop Growers Scoop Supreme Environmental Award

Temuka arable farmers Nick and Michelle Ward are the Supreme award winners of the 2009 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards. The couple farm 224ha of irrigated crop and lamb finishing country at Milford and 230ha of dryland at Geraldine.

Ballance Farm Environment Award judges described the Ward’s operation as a complex and intensive farm that is among the top 5% of arable producers while "providing a practical demonstration that intensive agriculture need not have adverse impacts on the environment". The Wards were announced Supreme winners of the annual award at a special ceremony on March 26 where they also collected the Ballance Nutrient Management Award, the Gallagher Innovation Award and the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award.

They grow a wide range of crops, including grass seed, feed wheat, feed barley, brassica seeds, vegetable seeds, faba beans, onions, shallots, lucerne, linseed and pasture. Other crops grown in the past include forage fescue, process peas and garlic. They have achieved a reputation as good growers through a focus on small scale specialist production rather than large scale commodity production. At the same time they also recognise the need to achieve economies of scale.

As well as cropping they also finish around 3000 lambs and 40-50 beef cattle annually. Older ewes are often purchased for pasture control and about 140 dairy heifers are grazed from January to June.  Their main aim is to farm in a manner that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. Production is market driven, and a key goal is to keep operating costs as low as possible (typically 60-65% of gross income).

Farm Environment Award judges praised their exceptional skills in planning and managing such a wide range of crops. They noted the Ward's excellent application of measurement and monitoring systems to "ensure the quality standards of clients are met while ensuring the continuing physical and financial sustainability of the farm".  "Farm operations are implemented from an understanding of the need for, or the reason for, a particular operation (e.g. spraying) rather than a recipe or a 'common practice' approach."

Most of the cropping land is worked on a six-year rotation from grass to grass and the Wards are particularly careful about how they treat their soil. To maintain optimum fertility, soil tests are done on half the property each year and fertiliser is applied according to the specific needs of each paddock. A range of crops are also herbage tested each year. With the exception of wheat stubble, all crop residue is chopped and reincorporated into the soil. Machinery passes are kept to a minimum during the crop establishment process and about one-third of the farm is subsoiled annually to reduce compaction.

Most crops are autumn-sown and the Wards avoid working wet soils. Young cattle are also grazed in small mobs to reduce the risk of pugging damage. All the irrigators are computer controlled to increase water use efficiency, and water meters are used to assist in water budgeting.

Judges also noted the Ward’s innovative approach to finding opportunities or solutions to problems. For example, the adaption of a tractor wheel base to increase efficiency and crop yield in ryegrass, and the modification of a fertiliser box to reduce application costs and increase yields.

A field day will be held on the Ward's farm in spring 2009. Information on this can be found at www.ecan.govt.nz/bfea

Other winners in the 2009 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards were:

PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award; Ben Todhunter and Donna Field, Rakaia Gorge.
Silver Fern Farms Livestock Award; Colin and Hilary Guild, Rakaia Gorge.
NZ Farm Environment Award Trust Habitat Improvement Award; John Harrington, Te Mania Livestock, Cheviot.
Environment Canterbury Water Efficiency Award; Michael and Angela Chaffey, Rakaia.LIC Dairy Farm Award; John and Robyn Faulkner, Culverden