South Canterbury dairy farmers John and Cara Gregan say the Ballance Farm Environment Awards are a positive event for the dairy industry because they highlight good examples of sustainable agriculture.
The former sheep and beef farmers started converting to dairying about 10 years ago and were surprised at how much negative press dairy farming generated in the region.
“It’s probably not so bad for us because we are a dryland operation,” John says.
“But irrigated dairying in Canterbury has a very high profile and some people have a skewed vision of dairy farmers as environmental vandals, when that’s not the case at all.”
The Gregans first entered the Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) about 15 years ago when they were still farming sheep and beef on the original family farm. Today Gregan Dairy milks around 1000 cows on a 360ha milking platform spread over two properties in the Blue Cliffs District, including the original farm which has been in the family for over 100 years.
Entering the 2016 Canterbury BFEA helped the Gregans benchmark their dairy operation and confirm they were on the right track as far as sustainability goes.
Judges were impressed with the significant amount of time and money the family put into planting unproductive areas and protecting wetlands. They also praised the Gregan’s excellent staff management and engagement, and their building of a “culture that is unique to their farming business”.
In the 2016 Awards, Gregan Dairy won three categories, including the Farm Stewardship Award. Supported in partnership by the QE II National Trust and the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, this award recognises the creation of special places on farm and the demonstration of management systems that include productivity and sustainability.
John says the Farm Stewardship Award was of special significance to the family.
“We are the third generation to farm here. The foundation was laid by my father and grandfather and it’s nice to have their efforts recognised.”
The Gregans say their first time in the Awards was a good learning experience and helped them when they later made the switch to dairying.
“I think we’ve always been environmentally-aware,” John says.
“The home farm has a good history of tree plantings, but our first experience with the Awards taught us more about the value of riparian planting and planting for run-off control.”
Cara says they put a lot of preparation into their 2016 entry, presenting plenty of information to the judges. The judges made them feel relaxed and gave them good feedback on the business.
While winning three category awards was a nice stamp of approval for their operation, they want to keep improving.
“You never know all the answers,” John says.
“It’s easy to think your operation is going well, but a lot of things can go wrong when you are dealing with livestock -based systems, so it’s important to keep reviewing what you are doing.
“We would certainly encourage others to enter the Awards because you learn so much about your business as you go through the process. It’s a good time to stop and look at your operation and decide what you want to achieve going forward.”
Entries for the 2017 Canterbury Ballance Farm environment Awards close on October 31. Entry is free and entry forms are available online at www.nzfeatrust.org.nz
For more information on the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, phone 07 834 0400, email or visit www.nzfeatrust.org.nz