11 November 2008
Northland farmer Leonie Batt took a risk when she diversified into avocados in the early 1980s, but she was determined to keep farming after the death of her husband.
Last year Leonie’s Kiripaka farming and horticultural operation won the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award in the prestigious Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Award judges were impressed by her management of the high producing orchard and also by her commitment to protecting native bush on the 70ha farm, north east of Whangarei.
Leonie’s husband died in 1974 and she diversified into avocados in 1982 to boost the profitability of the farm so that she wasn’t reliant on off-farm income.
The avocado orchard has gradually grown to the point where it now covers more than 5ha. Leonie also finishes beef cattle, running the farm with the help of two-part timers – one aged 71 and the other 81. “I’m somewhere in the middle, so we call ourselves ‘the three oldies’. We all believe that this work beats going to the gym because it benefits our health and earns income.”
Leonie can also call on the help of her daughter and son-in-law, who recently bought part of the farm. While her property is largely flat, it also features a ravine that runs down to the Ngunguru River. This area is home to some very old trees and has been fenced off for their protection. Leonie has also fenced other waterways and has been ring-fencing areas of native bush since 1975.
“When I first started planting the avocados, there were a couple of Totara trees on the block and also some Taraire. So I just planted around them.”
Winning the Harvest Award in the 2007 Ballance Farm Environment Awards provided welcome recognition for her pioneering avocado work, and also for her passion for native bush.
She says she enjoyed the judging process. “It was great listening to the judges’ comments and also being able to ask them questions as well.”
This year she was involved in the competition again, but this time as a judge. She says she was able to empathise with the entrants because she had been in the same position the previous year. “I saw some very good horticultural operations and it was clear that entrants were very aware of environmental issues and the need to balance production with long-term sustainability.
“As judges, we were trying to find out if they had a good understanding of what they were doing. We were also looking for evidence of long term planning when it came to issues like succession.”
Leonie says she would certainly encourage other farmers and orchardists to enter the 2009 competition because it provides an ideal opportunity for them to compare their businesses with others.
“It’s also a great way to gain independent advice and encouragement.”
Entries for the 2009 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards are open until December 8, 2008. For more information, contact BFEA regional coordinator Gayle Farrell, phone (09)433 1576, email: firstname.lastname@example.org