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Balancing High Production with Good Environmental Management

25 September 2008

Balancing High Production with Good Environmental Management

Award-winning Wairarapa sharemilkers Keith and Jo Dennis are successfully balancing high production with good environmental management. The couple, who run ‘Flaxburn’ - a Featherston farm owned by the Presbyterian Church, won the LIC Dairy Farm Award in this year’s Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards. This year they are milking 550 cows on 180ha and expecting to achieve over 200,000kg MS. “Our target is actually about 225,000kg MS, but we will only reach that if the weather lets us,” says Keith.

Ballance Farm Environment Award judges were impressed by the overall management of the farm and the way in which the couple achieved strong annual production increases on drought-prone country. They also noted the efficient use of irrigation, excellent farm recording systems, sound capital growth plans and a long term vision that is based on sustainable production.

Keith says they entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards because they wanted to “measure and mark” where they stood in terms of environmental sustainability. “We wanted to benchmark ourselves and ensure that we were doing everything we could for the owners and for future generations involved with the property.”  While they weren’t 100% sure they were doing everything right, Keith says the judging process helped confirm they were on the right path to long term sustainability.

The couple first entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2006 and that year they won both the LIC Dairy Farm Award and the Ballance Nutrient Management Award.

Keith says the competition made them think hard about how dairy farmers are perceived – rightly or wrongly – by those outside the industry. “It really brought home to us the importance of being accountable for everything we do.” Initially he expected to cop some flak for the focus on high production, but the judges were sympathetic to his farming practices. “Although we are achieving high production, we are doing this in a manner that is not detrimental to the land.”

While the farm has undergone considerable capital development, the couple have also planted trees for shelter and waterway protection. Keith admits it can be frustrating waiting for trees to grow but the benefits of these plantings have included a rejuvenated bird life. “And, as the farm environment judges pointed out to me, these birds help the farm because they clean up the bugs in paddocks.”

The couple is also cross breeding towards a type of dairy animal they feel would be more suited to the farm’s soil type. “We started off with Friesians and they certainly have their place,” says Keith. “But we feel a lighter crossbred animal will be better for this semi-soft country and also more user-friendly for staff.”

Keith says he has picked up several good ideas as a result of being involved with the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. He and Jo are determined to keep improving the farm.

“I’m a big supporter of the Farm Environment Awards and I’d certainly encourage other dairy farmers to give it a go. As an industry we have to prove to the public that we are doing the right thing for the environment, otherwise we run the risk of becoming over regulated.”

For information on entering the 2009 Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact Pip Dalgliesh, Wellington regional coordinator, phone (06) 378 8008 or email wellington@bfea.org.nz