25 March 2009
A 'big picture vision' has earned an organic dairy farming partnership the top award in the 2009 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Gray and Marilyn Baldwin and their sharemilkers Hamish and Jane Putt were named Supreme Winners of the annual contest at a ceremony in Cambridge on March 25.
The Putts are in their second season sharemilking 410 cows on the Baldwin's farm, just west of Putaruru.
Ballance Farm Environment Award judges described the farm as an impressive operation founded on excellent working relationships "with sustainability in mind throughout the business".
The 'Wuppertal Farming' team combines top farming practises with hard work and broad experience. Judges also noted the partners' "big picture vision beyond their farm gate".
Wuppertal Farming land is in conversion to organic certification and is targeting 160,000kgsMS production this season.
The main home block is 187ha - 145ha effective and 38ha trees. Gray Baldwin's family moved to the original block in 1965 and Gray and Marilyn purchased it in 1992 after two years leasing.
In 2003 they added a 43ha forestry block, building a bridge to allow access to the cowshed. Forestry land on suitable contour was developed into pasture and the rest was kept in trees.
A nearby 45ha run-off was added last year to provide a reliable supply of organic supplementary feed and winter and calf grazing, once organic certification is completed.
Hamish Putt says the farm has good free-draining soils and a mild climate.
He and Gray share a good deal of common history; their families have lived on neighbouring farms for more than half a century. Both possess agricultural degrees and first-hand knowledge of working off-farm.
The decision to join forces in an organic venture stemmed from a casual conversation, literally over the boundary fence.
"Producing organic milk puts you in touch with a very wealthy and elite customer base, and this insulates you from bigger market trends," says Gray.
"Sustainability is a nice fit, but economics come first. Organics is a successful way to farm and make money."
Hamish says the premium paid for organic milk (supplied to Fonterra) offsets any extra work or drop in initial production.
And he's finding he and his staff enjoy the greater variety of work on an organic property. The cows are also enjoying the change, with judges noting the good health of the herd and Hamish and Jane's meticulous and thorough record keeping. Jane has a nursing background so takes a keen interest in animal health and, says Gray, raises "top calves".
The animal health recording, monitoring and culling is a constant process. "As a sharemilker it's hard to cull and send away a cow that might have a good index," says Hamish. "But if it's caused problems, you have to do it if you want to end up with a really robust herd."
Gray is enthusiastic about the difference the organic approach has already made to their pastures.
Approximately 40 percent of the home farm is set up for effluent spreading. This is vital because effluent provides the farm's only source of Nitrogen.
Extensive tree planting is ongoing, with special attention paid to protection of waterways. The Pokaiwhenua River runs through the property and the Baldwins take their responsibility for this seriously.
They have a range of trees, from well managed pine blocks up to 14 years old, to natives in generously fenced riparian areas and shelter and shade trees planted in rows throughout the farm. These trees are one of Marilyn Baldwin’s special areas of interest and expertise. She has chosen tree crop species including chestnut, hazelnut and feijoa with the potential of produce being sold off-farm through a Farmer's Market.
As well as the Supreme award, Wuppertal Farming also won the Ballance Nutrient Management award.
A public field day will be held on the Baldwin’s farm on the 5th May.
BFEA Judging Comments on Wuppertal Farming;