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Farmers Stay Under Environmental Spotlight In 2007

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Farmers Stay Under Environmental Spotlight In 2007

2007 will be another testing year for farmers faced with the challenge of lifting production while minimising the environmental effects of intensive agriculture, says the newly appointed chairman of the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust.

Jim Cotman, a North Waikato farmer, says while farmers can expect continued public scrutiny over environmental issues, he hopes this analysis will be “better balanced” in future.

Farmers copped a lot of bad press in 2006 and in his view, much of it was unfair.

“Most farmers are already heading down the right track as far as the environment goes and they get a little tired of getting thrashed around the head by all the bad publicity,” he says.

“So they pull back into their shells and just get on quietly with the job.”

This is why he sees the NZ Farm Environment Award Trust (NZFEA) – the organisation that administers the Ballance Farm Environment Awards – as playing a vital role in promoting the positive things farmers are doing.

“The Awards are all about finding the best examples of environmental management and showcasing them to the farming community and the wider public.”

Mr Cotman was appointed NZFEA Trust chairman in October last year.

He and wife Raewyn own a dairy farm at Waerenga, east of Te Kauwhata.

Raised a “townie”, he took the traditional path to farm ownership by working on wages and then progressing into sharemilking. He bought the Waerenga farm in 1973 and its varied contour and heavy clay soils made it a challenging proposition.

“It was meant to be a stepping stone, but we are still here thirty plus years on and I guess that shows how much we love the place.”

The Cotmans gradually expanded their farm to 140hectares. It currently runs 220 cows plus replacements, along with dairy grazers and beef cattle.

The cows are sharemilked by the Cotman’s son Bruce and his wife Jenni. Raewyn runs the drystock area and this has given Jim more time to focus on his off-farm interests.

A former dairy section chairman for Federated Farmers, he has been involved with numerous agribusiness projects over the years.

As well as being chairman of the NZFEA, he is also a director of Te Pouakani Farms - an award-winning dairy and drystock enterprise based at Mangakino.

His association with the Farm Environment Awards started eight years ago while he was working for NZ Landcare Trust.

“Gordon Stephenson [Awards founder] tapped me on the shoulder one day and asked me if I’d get involved with the judging side of the Waikato awards.”

So Mr Cotman became judging coordinator for the Waikato region, then, as the awards became the Ballance Farm Environment Awards and went national, he became the national judging coordinator while also serving as a trustee on the newly formed NZFEA Trust.

Under his chairmanship, he says, the Trust will continue to develop the Awards as the premier showcase for farmer-led solutions to environmental issues. And it will ensure this information gets out to the farming community via a communications strategy that includes a soon-to-be launched website.

Communication with the urban community is another key priority. “It’s important that we help people to understand the importance of agriculture to New Zealand and show them what we are doing to protect the environment.”

The awards now operate in eight regions throughout the country and Mr Cotman says the Trust will aim to bring more regions on board in future. The Trust is also aiming to form partnerships with key agribusiness organisations.

At the Trust’s AGM in Rotorua in October, Mr Cotman said his appointment was a huge privilege and he paid tribute to former chairman Peter Nation.

“Peter’s vast experience in agribusiness has brought a new level of professionalism to the board’s activities and he has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Trust to promote sustainable farming practises in New Zealand. The Trust is very appreciative of his efforts and my job will be to continue the good work he has done.”

Mr Cotman says his own association with the Awards over the last eight years has been “good fun and highly rewarding”.

“It’s been great to work with so many different people, and it’s been a real pleasure to see the award-winners get recognition for all the hard work they’ve done. It’s also good to see their enthusiasm and passion rub off on other farmers, including me.”

He has used a number of the ideas picked up from the Awards on his own farm.

“Many of these ideas spring from budgetary constraints, and one of the most exciting things about the Awards is that they prove that the best innovations are not only good for the environment, they are also good for business.”

In future, says Mr Cotman, farmers will rely heavily on science to help them mitigate the environmental effects of increased production.

“But until we have more scientific information, most of the innovations are going to be farmer-discovered and they are going to come to light through the likes of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards.”


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