Don’t wait until you think you have the perfect farm to enter the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, say 2017 Southland finalists Derek and Bronnie Chamberlain.
“It’s all about work in progress. Set yourselves some goals and go for it. There’s always something more you can do,” Bronnie says.
“The more eyes you have on your property, the more advice and suggestions the better.”
The couple and their Western Southland farm, West Range, won the CB Norwood Distributors Ltd Agri-Business Management Award and the Farm Stewardship Award in partnership with QEII National Trust and the NZ Farm Environment Trust at this year’s Southland awards.
Entries are open for the 2018 Ballance Farm Environment Awards and close in Southland on October 27. For more information, please contact Tracie Donelley at or 027 291 0702. The first round of judging in late November will determine the finalists, with the second and final round of judging set to start at the end of January. The annual awards dinner will be at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill on April 12, 2018.
National judging co-ordinator Andrea Hanna says judging teams have a wide range of skills and look at all parts of the farming business. Judging is conducted in a relaxed and friendly manner and climatic factors are taken into account.
“In the past we’ve found farmers can be reluctant to enter if their farm or orchard has been affected by wet weather or drought. But the judges know severe climatic events are part of farming and growing and will look beyond this at the wider picture.”
As first-time entrants, the Chamberlains had earlier set the goal of entering the awards to find out if they were on the right track.
“When it came time for judging, we wanted those extra sets of eyes looking at the farm from a different perspective. For them to say “this is what you’re doing good, this is what you could do better”. We were prepared for criticism,” Bronnie says.
“We really enjoyed the first lot of judging because it was a beautiful day, that always helps, and we were really proud of the place, which made us push into the corners and physically took them to blocks we thought we were having trouble with.”
They were surprised how the judging had economic considerations as well as environmental.
“The judges’ comments weren’t just about the environment but also about the common sense side that you still have to farm the property and make money out of it. The finals judging was more serious and business-oriented but at the end of the day, it was another set of eyes across the property. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you work away on your farms. It’s good to see what you’re doing from someone else’s point of view. It was really positive and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.”
Bronnie says they will enter again in the future.
“There were suggestions in the feedback report we want to look at. They gave us some good advice and people to go to for help. We have incorporated a lot of that into our farm environment plan. We’re doing our own plan because we wanted to take it all on board and set our own targets and goals. We’ve also re-prioritised some things the judges thought should be done now rather than later. I can see us entering again, maybe when another family member is home working on the farm – it’s an opportunity for them to get an aspect of how things are.”
Derek and Bronwyn have daughters Jacqui, 21, and Alice, 18, and son Nic, 16.
West Range is a large scale dairy support and sheep and beef trading operation at Eastern Bush northwest of Otautau. The Chamberlains farm 1850ha (effective) and have approximately 288ha in woodlot, native areas and protected wetland. In tandem with development and riparian fencing, reticulated water has been extended to 90 percent of the farm, native areas retired and extensive shelter has been planted. A QEII National Trust covenant has been placed on a significant 57ha peat wetland.
The property was purchased by Derek’s grandfather Wallace in 1944. Derek’s parents Ian and Margaret followed and Derek came home to the farm when he was 21, with Bronnie joining him four years later. Last year the couple completed farm succession with Derek’s siblings.
The Chamberlains began grazing dairy heifers eight years ago and have gradually moved to their present form grazing 1900-2100 dairy heifers year round, with up to 1500 calves in spring/summer, and 2400 cows through the winter. They put in around 250ha of fodder beet and kale for winter crop each year, and make around 5500 bales of baleage. Some of the cow grazing is managed by the cow owners, who purchase crop by the kilogram from West Range.
Early adopters of cloud-based technology, the Chamberlains pay an allowance for staff smartphones. AgRecord’s Cloud Farmer system has multiple uses daily by the whole team. Applications include a communal daily farm diary, timesheets, health and safety reporting, animal treatments and the big data platforms like stock monitoring and grazing movements.
For more information please contact please contact Tracie Donelley at or 027 291 0702.