The environment, water quality and urban perception of farming is more important than it’s ever been, says 2017 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards finalist Lyndon Matthews.
“This election has been polarised around water quality. My belief is farmers are doing great stuff but we’re not so good at telling our story. That’s one of the reasons these awards are so important – telling the stories.
“Personally we’ve always been happy to put ourselves up for scrutiny. If it’s a good story we want to share it and if it’s not, we want to learn. Some people are worried about putting their head above the parapet but farmers have to be prepared to open ourselves to scrutiny. More farmers need to show what they’re doing.”
He says most farmers are proud to show people what they’re doing on farm.
“The awards gives the opportunity to do that. The judges are supportive – it’s not like you’re going to get a black mark against your name. It’s a voluntary process. At this point, you get to access a wealth of information about your business from the eyes of other people – things you may have taken for granted or never even thought of.’
The Matthews family won the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award and the Environment Canterbury Water Quality Award at the Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards dinner earlier in 2017.
“We entered for the first time 10 years ago and won the water use efficiency award. We entered again now with the help of the next generation. Water quality wasn’t seen to be an issue in 2007. The farm will be entered again in the future and who knows what farming will look like by then.”
Canterbury’s first round of judging will take place during November followed by the finalist judging in January 2018. Award winners will be announced at a gala dinner at the Rydges Latimer Christchurch on March 14 2017.
Lyndon and Millie Matthews have owned Puketira Deer – a 267ha deer and sheep breeding and finishing property at Waikari where Lyndon grew up – since 1998. They have three children – Eldon, 20, Delaney, 19, and Thomas, 18.
Millie is South Island sales manager for Atlantis Bathroom Style and Lyndon, a registered rural valuer, works in credit risk assessment for ASB.
During the week hands-on farm work is done by longstanding local staff member Mel Ruck.
A comprehensive farm environment plan was prepared by Eldon in his final year of a BComAg at Lincoln University and is used to underpin management decisions in conjunction with FarmIQ management software.
Ordinarily the 250ha (effective) farm winters 3000 stock units, but the recent prolonged drought drove that down to 2400su. After two years of drought, the farm is enjoying a fabulous spring.
“It’s a complete contrast to 2016. There’s clover everywhere,” Lyndon says.
“We felt invigorated after the awards. It bucketed with rain and we were even tree planting in the autumn. The climate has been kind and we’re back into doing what we love doing, which includes planting trees.”
Prize money was spent buying more native trees. The family has since discovered certain plants growing on their farm are natural habitat for skinks.
“That’s biodiversity we didn’t know we had so we’re going to try to grow some from seed. There are always things you can learn or improve on.”
The farm has also had a complete change of stock policy. Sheep are being removed from the system and the remaining 60ha of the farm will be deer fenced, which will also allow more wetlands to be fenced at the same time. Deer numbers will lift from 450 hinds to 750.
“We’re primarily venison and the outlook is very strong at present. Let’s hope that continues.”
Many of the benefits of entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards have come afterwards, Lyndon says.
“We knew we were strong in some areas and had other areas that needed more work. One of those areas was Overseer – we were conscious we weren’t as strong as we would have liked to be. But one of our learnings from the process is what we do with the information it gives us. A number is a number, but it has become more about identifying hotspots we need to mitigate or minimise.”
He says the family doesn’t call itself ‘green’ but simply more environmentally aware.
“We recognise there are farming practices of the past that can’t be done in the future. We have to be prepared to change.
“We’re already seeing outside spinoffs from our involvement in the awards. One neighbour subsequently contacted us about fencing and planting his section of the creeks downstream from us. Farmers do look over the fence and see what others are doing. It’s special and they want to be part of it.
“Eldon is keen to get a third neighbour into it… make it a major project and get funding. That’s how it starts. One farm at a time. One stream at a time.”
Source: New Zealand Farm Environment Trust