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Eastern Southland Dairy Conversion Benefits from Competition

Eastern Southland Dairy Conversion Benefits from Farm Environment Competition

Entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards helped a fledgling Southland dairy operation measure its progress as a successful and sustainable farming business.

South Coast Dairy Ltd, an equity partnership between five families, owns 202ha between Curio Bay and the Haldane Estuary in Eastern Southland. The former sheep and beef farm was converted four years ago and now milks 385 cows on a 135ha milking platform.

Mindful of the farm’s location in a sensitive coastal area, the owners have made a big effort to mitigate the environmental impacts of dairying, with extensive riparian fencing and planting work conducted following consultation with the Department of Conservation, Environment Southland, Landcare Trust and Fish and Game.

Almost 30ha of rare podocarp bush on the property has also been protected through a QEII National Trust covenant.

Equity partners Chris and Lynsey Stratford, who oversee the day to day management of the farm, milked 380 cows last year, achieving production of 437kgMS/cow. The other partners are Rob and Sarah Craig, Alex and Miranda Hunter, Lachlan McKenzie and Nick and Dani Stratford.

South Coast Dairy participated in the 2013 Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA), winning two category awards. Even though the operation was only in its early stages as a dairy farm, the partners weren’t afraid to put it up for the scrutiny of the judges.

Lynsey says entering the competition provided the business with a good opportunity to benchmark economic and environmental progress.

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While some farmers are reluctant to enter the competition because they feel their farm isn’t ready, Lynsey says the owners of South Coast Dairy Ltd were keen to enter because they wanted to build knowledge and find out if they were on the right track.

“The main benefit for us was the ability to get feedback from a diverse group of people with different skill sets. We felt we had a lot to gain by entering early rather than waiting for a few more years.”

BFEA judges were clearly impressed with the efforts the owners had made to enhance water quality on the farm, describing it as a “showcase” for best practice in water preservation.

They said water quality testing at farm entry and exit points showed a marked improvement in water quality. Judges also noted the farm’s excellent water reticulation system, and the careful use of water saving devices and practices in the farm dairy.

They awarded South Coast Dairy Ltd the WaterForce Integrated Management Award – an award that “recognises the farmer who has developed and implemented water management systems and processes for water used within their farming system”.

When judging this category, BFEA judges take into account the design of the systems and the “efficiency of monitoring water usage, water saved and cost effectiveness in any land-based farming system”.

South Coast Dairy Ltd also received the Donaghys Farm Stewardship Award.

Lynsey says she and Chris enjoyed the interactive judging process.

“It was just like have a friendly discussion as you go around the farm. It was very much a collaborative approach because the judges asked us questions and we were able to ask them questions. We got a lot of good feedback and the whole process gave us great food for thought.”

She says the judges provided a valuable outside perspective of the operation.

“The Awards night was another highlight because we got to meet the other competitors and be inspired by their stories.”

She says she and Chris would definitely encourage other farmers to participate in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

“It’s an empowering competition. You’ve got nothing to lose by entering.”

Entries for the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards are now open and entry forms are available at www.bfea.org.nz

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