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2008 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards

29 October 2007

2008 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards

Winning an award in last year’s Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards provided some nice recognition for organic wine producer Nick Mills, but that wasn’t the reason he entered the competition.

He says the main benefit was the reassurance that his operation was on the right track as far its “relationship with the land” goes.

“We believe the way we run the property has a certain level of environmental merit, but being involved in the competition gave us the chance to test ourselves and see how we were doing in the eyes of the assessment team.”

Nick is among a small but growing number of biodynamic wine producers in New Zealand and he’s passionate about the future of his family-run vineyard just outside Wanaka.

Rippon Vineyard has about 15 hectares of vines which are grown using bio-dynamic production methods rather than conventional chemical-based programmes.

Nick says that operating such a system, although it can be quite physically demanding at times, is essentially easier, more enjoyable and “certainly more practical” than conventional methods.

Weeds are kept under control using a tractor-mounted vine weeder and hand weeding. Pest and disease control is based on a sulphur programme, and pest management is assisted by the biodiversity on the vineyard which provides a good habitat for predator wasps.

Rippon also has a unique and effective composting system that overcomes the problem of effluent run-off. Large quantities of compost are collected and carefully mixed and the run-off that results from the fermentation process is directed to a tank collection system. The stored liquid can then be applied to the vineyard as an additional organic fertiliser.

The design and efficiency of this system earned the vineyard the Gallagher Innovation Award in the 2007 Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

The judges were also impressed by Nick’s enthusiasm and knowledge of bio-dynamic production, his desire to restore areas of native biodiversity on the vineyard, and his community involvement.

Nick says he initially considered the awards to be largely the domain of pastoral farmers, but he is pleased he entered and would recommend the experience to other vineyard and horticultural operations.

“It doesn’t cost anything, and it’s a great to have experienced and intelligent people assess your property and let you know how you are going.”

Entries for the 2008 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards open on November 1 and close on December 15, 2007.