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Environmental Sustainability Deserves More Credit

1 November 2007

Environmental Sustainability Deserves More Credit

An award-winning farmer reckons farmers deserve more credit for the efforts they put into environmental sustainability.
Bruce McKelvie, who won the Supreme award in the 2004 Ballance Farm Environment Awards (Horizons region), says farmers are tired of being tagged as environmental vandals.

Dairy farmers in particular have worn heavy criticism for poor effluent management. “Effluent is a big issue for farmers since the switch from the two-pond system to land application. The majority of farmers have been happy to make this change, but what many people don’t realise is the significant expense that is involved in doing this.

“Farmers have to wear these costs, yet they still get criticised for not doing enough. If the government is really serious about environmental sustainability, it needs to do more to help farmers.”

By this he means financial incentives, not legislation. “Farmers want to be led, not pushed.”

Bruce says the Ballance Farm Environment Awards show that farmers do care about the environment and he encourages farmers to get in behind the competition.

“We have to show people in urban areas that we care about our land and we are proud of what we are doing.”

Bruce and his brother Ian won their 2004 award for their work on their fourth generation property, Pukemarama Farm, which is situated on the Foxton coastline near Tangimoana. The 2430 hectare farm comprises 2000ha of sheep and beef country and two dairy units.

In 2004 the dairy units were milking 600 cows, and the sheep and beef unit ran 400 beef cows and about 13,000 ewes. About 20,000 lambs and up to 2000 steers were traded annually.

Bruce says about 60ha of the cropping country was irrigated but the rest was coastal dryland. “The sandy soils were very fragile and the lack of water was one of the biggest issues for the farm.”

The brothers were encouraged to enter the Ballance Farm Environment Awards by the Horizons Regional Council, which had been involved in wetland protection work on the farm. Swamp areas and streams were fenced to exclude stock and this led to a significant improvement in water quality.

The McKelvies also planted erosion-prone sandy ridges with pine trees, and made a big effort to protect and enhance the farm’s fragile soils.

Bruce says this included the use of conservation tillage to reduce the risk of wind erosion while retaining soil moisture and nutrients.

Ballance Farm Environment Award judges were also impressed with the pasture quality on the farm and with the way the McKelvies carefully managed their stock policies to suit the soil type.

Bruce says being involved in the awards was a great experience. “I’ve followed the awards quite closely since, and I’ve seen some magnificent farms that show what can be achieved if you really set your mind to it.”

But this doesn’t mean that only showcase farms should enter the competition.

“We’ve all got to start somewhere and this competition is the ideal way to pick up information and ideas.”

Entries for the Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards opened on October 29 and close on December 21.