26 August 2008
The desire to learn more led Bay of Plenty dairy farmers Stuart and Alison Paton to enter the Ballance Farm Environment Awards three years in a row. Their first experience in the 2005 competition earned them a merit award for excellence in animal health and management and proved so worthwhile they re-entered in 2006 and were thrilled to win the LIC Best Dairy Farm Award. They entered again in 2007 and won both the LIC Best Dairy Farm Award and the PGG-Wrightson Habitat Improvement Award.
Stuart says being involved in the competition provided “heaps” of good ideas for their Galatea farm. It also confirmed they were heading in the right direction in terms of environmental and business sustainability.
Farm Environment Award judges praised the Paton’s efforts to reduce fertiliser leaching and their strong emphasis on animal health and stock welfare. Soils and pastures are also carefully managed to achieve good production, and waterways have been fenced and planted.
Stuart says they are continuing to fence off the drains that criss-cross the low-lying farm.“We’ve only got three more paddocks to fence and then we can focus on planting out these areas,” he says.
This season the Patons will milk about 350 cows on two farms – the 59ha home farm and a 100ha property nearby.
In the past Alison has run the home farm, milking 170 cows, while Stuart ran the second unit which milked 230. But the return of their son Andrew to the farm encouraged a re-think on how the operation is run.
“We sold 70 cows and the plan now is to run the whole farm ourselves, with no outside labour.” The drop in cow numbers means one person can comfortably milk each herd on their own. “So that leaves one of us free to handle other farm jobs, do the shopping or go hunting or fishing.”
Heifers that were grazed off-farm will now be grazed back home or on the Paton’s 28ha run-off. The decision to reduce cow numbers is an interesting one to make at a time when many farmers are doing the opposite. But Stuart believes the reduction in labour and grazing costs and a potential increase in per cow production will make the move worthwhile.
The new system should also make for a better lifestyle “because its going to give us greater control and more time off”. Stuart says they are constantly looking for ways to keep ahead when it comes to the sustainability and profitability of their operation.
“The reason we entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards was because it gave us the opportunity to learn new things. We are really pleased we did because we learnt so much from the judges.”
He and Alison want to see how the recent changes on the farm work out, then they plan to enter the competition again some time in the future to chase the Supreme award.
“If you’re entered you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”