1 January 2009
Winning a category award in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards provided worthy recognition for the work Canterbury farmers Bruce and Lyn Nell have done in diversifying their high country farming business.
The Nells own Middle Rock Station, a 1000ha Lake Coleridge property about half an hour's drive north of Methven. Situated at the back of the Mount Hutt ski field, the station was originally a ballot block settled by Bruce's father after World War II.
It currently runs about 7000 Corriedale sheep and is also home to two other ventures - Middle Rock Farm Tours and Middle Rock High Country Perennials.
Lyn says the tourist venture offers half-day farm tours, with about half of the visitors being international tourists.
She also runs a perennial plant nursery and markets these plants largely via the internet to customers around the country. She says the station's high altitude makes it ideal for producing hardy perennial plants that can survive in a wide range of environments.
Diversification into tourism and plant propagation has helped the Nells to supplement farm income and improve their lifestyle. Their efforts in achieving a good work-life balance were recognised when they won a Land and Life award in the 2008 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Lyn says they were encouraged to enter the awards by a previous winner. " Once we decided to give it a go, our attitude was to give it our best shot. Even if we didn't win anything it would still give us the opportunity to take a thorough look at all our systems and find out about the best practices being used by other farmers."
Winning the Land and Life award was a pleasant surprise, with potential marketing benefits for the tourism business.
"Last year we had over 800 visitors and that was up 20% on the previous year. It's hard to say if the increase was related to the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, but the credibility of winning such an award has certainly helped."
Lyn says she and Bruce learnt a lot from their involvement in the competition. " It was very professionally run and it was a great experience to be judged by our farming peers. There seems to be a real family atmosphere among the people involved in the competition in this region and we really enjoyed the support we received."
She also found out that the competition is not just about planting trees. " The judges take a holistic view of the whole operation and they also take factors like community involvement into account. Participating in the competition enabled us to compare our operation to others, find out where we stood, and find out how we could improve."
The Nell's daughter Charlotte has recently returned to the farm and is taking a year's leave from her job as a rural banker. Lyn says Charlotte is interested in going farming full-time and it is likely she will take over the farm one day.
"So succession is a big issue for us and it's also something the Ballance Farm Environment Awards encourages farmers to think about."
Her advice to any farmer contemplating entering the 2010 Ballance Farm Environment Awards is to " give it a go".
Entries for the 2010 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards open on 1 September and close on 23 October, 2009.
For more information on the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone 07 834 0400, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bfea.org.nz