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State Of The Nation In Good Hands

21 March 2006

State Of The Nation In Good Hands

Peter Nation

The new chairman of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards is used to being asked his opinion on “the state of the nation”.

Like anyone with a name that lends itself to a play on words, Peter Nation has learned to laugh off the puns. But in his new role, the question has greater significance than in the past.

Because the “state of the nation” is very relevant to what the environment awards are all about. And why Peter Nation is so committed to them.

He’s been involved with the awards for more than a decade since he was invited to attend an awards dinner in his role then as rural banker with the ANZ.

The awards were still a Waikato-only initiative in those days, he recalls.

“But when I met people like Gordon Stephenson, the father of the awards, and people with huge enthusiasm like Bill Garland, and Jim Cotman and saw the excitement there was about the awards, I knew they had much wider potential.”

Along with principal sponsor Ballance Agri-Nutrients’ Gray Baldwin, Peter was sure the awards could, and should, go national.

Ballance took on naming rights sponsorship of the awards and ANZ became a tier two sponsor. The stage was set to take the awards to the country.

Their prophecy came true – with the awards now taking place in Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, the Horizons Manawatu/Wanganui region, Greater Wellington region, Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

They have grown to the extent there is a wider family of sponsors comprising leading agribusinesses Rabobank, Gallagher Group PPCS, PPG Wrightson, Livestock Improvement Corporation, and Hill Laboratories.

The awards have also won the confidence of local government bodies including Northland Regional Council, Horizons Regional Council, Environment Bay of Plenty, the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Environment Canterbury and the Otago Regional Council. And they’ve attracted positive interest from the Ministry for the Environment.

“What these groups see is the influence these awards have on changing farmers’ behavior because they see it can have a benefit for their farm’s future and profitability – not because legislation tells them they have to,” Peter says.

“The Ballance Farm Environment Awards are successful because they capture farmers’ – and the wider public’s – imagination. The Trust is an entity people can relate to. It’s not conceptually ‘airy fairy’. It’s real and it relates to where farming is.”

Peter’s experience with farmers has shown him that farmers respond well to role models.

“In my experience farmers and families of the land do not readily subscribe to issues that they can not practically relate too or are not recommended by trusted advisors or fellow farmers

“What the awards do is identify genuine and good farmers and put them on a pedestal. Other farmers see what they have achieved and say, ‘yes, I can adapt that and make it happen at my place’.”

The award winners are recognised for doing something positive and making a difference while caring about where we all live – they’re definitely not seen as environmental hippies” says Peter.

Peter’s interest in the environment isn’t just through his links with the land, first as a rural banker and more recently in his role as National Sales Manager for Gallagher Group.

He grew up as the third generation of Nation family farmers in the Turakina Valley near Hunterville. It was a sheep and beef farm with hard hill contours. In the early days, the family worked with the then Catchment Board, undertaking plantings both to stop slipping and to increase production.

“I remember re-grassing and, as a teenager, assiting to put in some 13 miles of fencing around gullies and non productive land and back planting with literally thousands of trees.”

The Nation farm also operated a sawmill so Peter could see the balance between conservation and production.

“We needed to conserve the wood, but it was also needed for furniture and building – there’s always a realistic balance needed in everything we do, both then and now.

He has huge admiration for people who take part in the awards.
“It’s not easy to put your life on show. But I get a big kick out of watching the people who take the risk and who become what I call, ‘pedestalled’. Their recognition means they are pulled into other things. They are invited to take part in other initiatives. People ask and respect their opinions. The Ballance Farm Environment Awards can change people’s lives and ultimately grow farming leaders, I see it all the time.”

The relevance and importance of the awards is growing all the time, Peter believes.

“In the old days, farmers thought nothing of burying their rubbish and old chemicals in the ground. But issues such as ground and water contamination affect everyone. It’s not just about farmers, it’s a whole community issue. What happens on the farm impacts on the food chain. The way farmers act affects all consumers.”

While his role as chairman makes considerable demands on Peter’s already busy life with Gallagher, as a husband and father of two small children and contributing to other boards, he says what he gets out of it makes the sacrifices well worth while.

“It’s great to see the commitment made by all our sponsors not just in dollars but in people-time because they believe in these awards.
People who get involved in these awards put huge amounts of time and money in because they want too. One of the many attractions to me is getting to know these people who know they can make a difference and have a passion to do so.

The awards continue to grow. Additional regions are showing an interest in taking part and there are around 500 volunteers around the country contributing their time and skills. Peter sees that as chairman he will need to guide the Farm Environment Awards Trust with careful governance.

“We have a winner here. We’re attracting interest from overseas from countries who seek to replicate our model. We’re neutral and therefore we have the ability to raise important issues, get people talking, and get people thinking. There can’t be anything more important than that.”

Judging in the eight BFEA award regions has just been completed. The results will be announced at a series of awards evenings around the country in April.


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