1 January 2009
Dougal McIntosh has fond memories of the day Ballance Farm Environment Award judges first visited his Brunswick farm in January 2004.
As he and wife Di guided them around their 1100ha hill country property, northwest of Wanganui, Dougal says it was a great day. "The judges were so enthusiastic about what we were doing and they really made us feel appreciated as farmers."
Two weeks later, as the saying goes, it all turned pear-shaped.
The region was hit by one of the worst storms ever and the impact on the McIntosh's Ratamarumaru Farm was devastating. Hundreds of trees were destroyed and much of the broken hill country that dominates the farm was scarred by slips.
Dougal says farms further down the line were hit even harder.
With so much damage in the region, the organisers of the Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards took the unprecedented step of cancelling the 2004 competition.
Dougal says the 2004 storm and the two other "supposedly one-in-a-hundred year weather events" that occurred soon after taught him that nothing should be taken for granted. "It made me realise just how vulnerable farms and farmers are to challenges from nature."
By 2005 the McIntosh's farm was still in poor shape, but the "beautiful start" they'd enjoyed in the 2004 Awards encouraged them to re-enter the competition.
Replanting was underway and today about half the farm is in forestry. This programme includes a joint venture with Horizons Regional Council which has targeted the most fragile and erosion-prone areas as identified in the McIntosh's Whole Farm Plan.
Later, Dougal decided he wanted to "give something back" to the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. He joined the board of the NZ Farm Environment Award (NFEA) Trust and became a judge and management committee member for the Horizons region.
He describes his work at a local level as a fascinating job. "It's a marvellous programme. There is an incredible amount of enthusiasm on the committee and I've found it a real privilege to be on the finalist judging panel for the last three years."
The judging process takes him to a variety of farms where he meets farmers who are all intent on the goal of achieving a farming business that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
"One common factor that always comes across is the huge pride these farmers take in what they are doing. I think this is what differentiates the Ballance Farm Environment Awards from other competitions that are purely production driven."
Entries for the 2010 Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards are now open and Dougal is urging farmers to "go for it".
"One of the excuses we hear for people not entering is that they don't feel their farm is ready. But all farms are a work in progress and what really matters is what farmers are doing now and what they are planning to do in future."
Dougal says entrants are judged by their farming peers who understand the dreams they have and the challenges they face.
He says all farms will have a setback at some stage, but the judges are looking for evidence of ambition and long-term planning that will enable entrants to make progress even when facing climatic and financial challenges.
Entrants have much to gain from the judging process and they shouldn't be afraid to nominate themselves or a fellow farmer.
"Some farmers feel a little awkward about putting their own names forward, but now they can be nominated by someone else, which works well."
Dougal's role as an NZFEA trustee brings him into contact with many "impassioned people" who are committed to improving environmental sustainability. He says an annual highlight is when all these people are brought together at the National Sustainability Showcase to honour Supreme winners from the eight regions involved.
"The Ballance Farm Environment Awards have achieved an excellent level of credibility and recognition. The challenge now is to find ways to maintain that momentum."
Entries for the 2010 Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards close on October 30, 2009. For more information or an entry form, contact Horizons BFEA regional coordinator Margaret Matthews, phone (06) 342 7783 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