Competition Helps Canterbury Farmer Improve Water Management


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Canterbury farmer Mike Chaffey admits he felt a little nervous as he waited for the Ballance Farm Environment Award judges to visit his farm last year.

But he and wife Angela needn’t have worried. “They put us at ease straight away,” says Mike.

“They asked a lot of questions about what we were doing and why we were doing it, but it was all very informal. It was just like sitting around the table with a few mates having a yak about the farm.”

In fact, Mike says he probably learnt as much from the judges as they learnt from him. “We were a bit hesitant about entering the competition but I’m really glad we did because we got to meet a lot of different people and we picked up some very useful information on how we can improve our farm in future.”

Mike and Angela run a dairy support block, cropping operation and beef finishing unit on three blocks northwest of Rakaia.

Almost 500ha of the farm is irrigated using a range of different application systems and the operation has consent to draw 299 litres of water a second from its wells. Mike says this equates to about 5mls/ha/day.

Water is a “huge” issue for the region and it’s a topic he is very passionate about. Over the years he and Angela have strived to optimise the utilisation of this valuable resource by constantly fine-tuning their irrigation system.

The use of technology such as soil moisture probes and computerised metering has helped them to ensure water is applied in the right quantities when it is needed.

This carefully planned approach to irrigation helped the Chaffeys win the Environment Canterbury Water Efficiency Award in the 2009 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Perhaps another feature of the farm is the Chaffey’s desire to preserve tree lines and plant more trees. Trees and overhead irrigation systems aren’t always a good fit, but Mike is always looking for ways to integrate trees and he aims to plant about 1.5km of new tree lines each year.

He says trees play an important role in reducing evapotranspiration. He has set soil moisture probes around tree lines as part of an experiment to try to quantify how much moisture is preserved in these areas.

Mike says one of the key advantages of entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards was that he got to talk to farmers and scientists who had considerable expertise in irrigation and water management.

“We made some new friends, picked up a lot of contacts and have come out of it with some really good ideas on what changes we can make to improve our system in the future.”

He says entering the competition was well worthwhile and he would certainly encourage other farmers to give it a go.

“You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose.”

Entries for the 2010 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards opened on September 1 and close on October 23, 2009.

For more information or an entry form, visit or contact Nicola Hunt, Canterbury Regional Co-ordinator, Ballance Farm Environment Awards, phone (03) 353 9711, 
For more information on the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone 07 834 0400,  or visit

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