1 January 2009
The winning of two category awards in the 2009 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards was an unexpected but welcome acknowledgement of Terry and Sue Magill's relatively short farming career.
The Magills, who bought their 82ha dairy unit at Te Poi eight years ago, took out the LIC Dairy Farm Award and the Environment Waikato Water Protection Award in this year's competition.
Raised on a farm and often involved with the rural sector through his work as a solicitor in Matamata, Terry says he was a latecomer to farm ownership.
"It was always my ambition to own a dairy farm. It took me until I was 50 to get there, but I made it eventually."
After buying 'Erena Farm' in 2001 he and Sue made a bold decision to go organic in the days before organic milk earned a premium. Terry says it was a personal choice. "We are not against conventional farming at all. We just felt an organic system would suit us better."
Their operation was certified organic in 2004. Terry admits the early years were a challenge as they battled problems that are common to organic dairy operations, namely mastitis, lameness and weeds.
But they are learning how to manage these issues. Terry says animal health problems have decreased to the point where "we virtually never see the vet these days" and the profitability of the 220-cow herd is rising.
Weeds are kept under control through topping with a mower or using good-old fashioned elbow grease and a spade.
Terry says they have also made "a conscious effort" to fence off all the major drains and waterways. He says the farm is in a sensitive area because its waterways feed into the Rapurapu Stream, a tributary of the Waihou River.
Environment Waikato provided advice for the planting and fencing programme, along with a 'Clean Streams' grant that covered 30% of the costs. "This made a huge difference and without it we would probably not have done as much as work as we did. It's disappointing that this scheme is being wound down because it gave many Waikato farmers an incentive to protect wetlands and less productive land."
When the judges for the Ballance Farm Environment Awards arrived in late 2008, they found a healthy herd and a clean farm with well-fenced waterways.
Terry says a friend had nominated them for the awards and while they were a bit hesitant at first, they found it a rewarding and enjoyable experience that made them take a good hard look at their business.
"I sat down beforehand and thoroughly scrutinised our operating costs, which is something I hadn't done to that degree before."
As well as providing a useful critique of the operation, he says the judging process also challenged them to think about their responsibilities to staff and the wider community.
Terry says the two awards he and Sue won were a welcome and credible recognition of the work they and their farm manager have done. The couple now get frequent requests from Fonterra and other organisations to host overseas visitors on the farm. "We are always happy to do that".
He says the Ballance Farm Environment Awards are great for the dairy industry and he would urge any farmer to enter the competition.
"I'm very positive about the future of our industry and I think the majority of dairy farmers are trying their hardest to improve sustainability. As stewards of the land we have a duty to be responsible and manage the best way we can. It doesn't matter whether you are running a high input or an organic system; every farmer has their own definition of how this should be done. The key is having respect for the land, the animals and the people."
Entries for the Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards close on November 16, 2009.
For more information or an entry form, visit www.bfea.org.nz or contact Gerry Glover, Waikato BFEA coordinator, phone (07) 8298815 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone 07 834 0400, email@example.com or visit www.bfea.org.nz