Benchmarking themselves against other farmers was one of the big pluses in entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards for Wairarapa farmers Mike and Liz McCreary.
Entering in the Greater Wellington region, they won the Massey University Innovation Award, WaterForce Integrated Management, Beef + Lamb NZ Livestock Award and the Farm Stewardship Award sponsored by the QEII National Trust and the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust.
The McCrearys annually finish around 30,000 lambs and up to 1500 bulls and crop on their 618ha (540ha effective) property on the south eastern shores of Lake Wairarapa.
Mike and Liz, who purchased the farm with Mike’s parents Rob and Heather in 2008, also have a specialist agricultural contracting business, McCreary Machinery, concentrating on minimum tillage ground and arable work and high quality baleage.
Mike grew up in the Western Lake area so he has a deep appreciation of and understanding for this distinct corner of South Wairarapa.
But he says the feedback and the comments of the awards judges, both first round and finals judges, opened their eyes to some of the things they were a little unsure of, such as techno systems and plantings.
“We have an intensive farm. Our ability to back fence efficiently and spread the nutrients evenly across the whole farm has been a credit to our farm design, which was built by Tom Chisholm. Our nutrient footprint on the land is quite light for an intensive system.
He says the judging included a lot of conversation.
“It was a fairly rounded process, not tedious or something to be scared of, but they kept us just being us as we went around so we could share our farm with them.”
“It was a neat thing to involve our staff. Involving them with the judging has given them more insight or more appreciation of the environmental reasons behind what we’re doing.”
The McCrearys took the whole team to the awards dinner.
“It was good team building and the recognition was also rewarding for them.”
Mike says they have entered a few times before but hadn’t followed through.
“It’s a busy time of year and we’re usually running thin on the ground. But in 2017 we had the right headspace and the right staff and even though we were still busy at the time we made it fit.”
Entering again in the future is on the cards.
“We had no stock water reticulation when we started and we’ve now only got 60ha to go,” he says.
“We want to finish off the stop banks and the fencing and planting around the lake edge. We’ve moved 60,000 tonne of dirt out there. We’ll split us off the lake edge and take our stock out of the water ways and I think we’ll have another shot.
“We understand the process a bit better now and will present our business to the judges better next time. Financially we were under the pump and we’re getting on top of that as well. In three years’ time we’ll be in a totally different space.”
Entries to the 2018 Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards close on Tuesday 31 October 2017.
There are 11 regional awards held around the country, which follow the geographic boundaries of regional councils such as Greater Wellington.
The Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards evening will be at held on 11 April 2018 at the Carterton Events Centre.
Mike McCreary says the Greater Wellington Regional Council, which is a strong supporter of the awards programme, plays a big part in the success of their business.
“We all have to be aware of the environment and our effect on it. Our council is doing a great job to help particularly Richard Parkes and Tony Faulknor and their crews. We’ve planted 29,000 trees and fenced waterways and never could have done it by ourselves. They help with releasing and planting and organising everything. They’re really breaking down the barriers between council and farming.”
Mike also recognised the work they do with Louise McCormick from Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Stephanie Sloan from PGG Wrightson to matching soil types and nutrient requirements.
Source: New Zealand Farm Environment Trust