Matamata dairy farmers win Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards


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Matamata dairy farmers Rod and Sandra McKinnon, Oakstone Hinuera Ltd, have won the Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards. Their win was announced on Thursday night (April 5) at the Sir Don Rowlands Centre at Lake Karapiro. The McKinnons will host a field day at the Taotaoroa Road property on Thursday May 10 from 10am.

Rod and Sandra milk 375 cows on 140ha (effective) producing 162,000kg of milk solids a year. They bought their first 44ha farm in 1992 and added 25ha in 1995, 92ha in 2005 and 33ha in 2017. A philosophy to look after the environment had been maintained alongside the growth of the business from 44ha to 194ha in 25 years, the awards judges said. 

“Adopting sustainable practices has been central to their decision making illustrating their commitment to looking after the environment. They have adapted their management to suit the land capability and this has included putting in place industry leading practices and proactively utilising new technologies. A real effort has been made to monitor what is happening on farm to ensure problems are detected early… this is an indication of their consideration of how to best future proof their business.”

New electronic technology for effluent, water, and milk monitoring and an impressive investment in effluent storage followed by solids spreading and liquids irrigation have helped Rod and Sandra care for the Mangawhea Stream, a tributary of the Piako River that runs through their farm. They have endured many challenges with flooding and stream bank erosion but persist with the realignment of fences and replanting of riparian areas damaged by floods.

They wrote their own Farm Environment Plan three years ago, which included wetlands, ponds and some tree planting for shade and erosion control. Weed and pest control included culling of feral goats and bringing the possum population down to manageable levels, while barberry and blackberry control is ongoing.

In 2015 the McKinnons entered into an Environmental Programme Agreement with Waikato Regional Council to improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and improve indigenous biodiversity. This includes a plan to retire 25ha, plant the riparian areas and create more wetlands. Rod has enthusiastically adopted Yardmaster Halo electronic monitoring technology to the extent of helping prove and extend the mobile phone application.

Farm dairy effluent is stored in ponds and irrigated over 30ha of the farm in drier months. Effluent management includes GPS monitoring of the irrigator, pond level indictors and geo-fencing of drains, rivers and wetlands. All the streams and drains on the farm are geo-fenced and monitored by the Halo system with the GPS unit on the irrigator to avoid effluent getting into them.

Rod McKinnon was a founding member of the Piako River Catchment Forum and the farm has been a case study for the Fonterra Tiaki Sustainable Dairying Programme. Water usage is monitored through water meters, with water supplied through two bores. The farm is fully reticulated with troughs in every paddock, so livestock have no need to access the stream or drains, which are fenced in accordance with the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord. All fertiliser use is informed by regular soil tests. Nitrogen leaching risk is currently assessed at 25kg/ha/year.

“Our goal is to maintain the current level of nitrogen leaching and work hard to reducing it even more,” the McKinnons said. “One way is our decision to reduce the stocking rate while increasing production by feeding our cows well and milking only the better cows. “Riparian planting and more wetlands will underpin our commitment to sustainable farming. We hope to restore and regenerate native bush and attract wildlife to the area. We have a way to go, as it is of course dependent on time and money. “Aesthetically it is important that our farm also continues to be an attractive, profit-making, environmentally responsible operation.”

The judges said the farm is a leading example of a measured approach and consistently doing things well. “Both Rod and Sandra are very passionate about doing things once and doing it properly and the farm is inspirational for improving aesthetics and enhancing biodiversity.”

As well as the regional supreme award, the McKinnons won the DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, Miraka Farm Stewardship Award, WaterForce Integrated Management Award and the Waikato Regional Council Water Protection Award.

Landcorp’s 260ha Burgess Dairy Unit at Reporoa, which is in its third season of dairying after conversion from forestry within the Wairakei Estate, won the Massey University Innovation Award and the Waikato River Authority Catchment Improvement Award. The CB Norwood Distributors Ltd Agri-Business Management Award and Predator Free NZ Award went to Turoa (Andrew) Karatea, John Oliver, Mark Oliver, Duncan Oliver and Ben Connolly via the Owawenga Trust, Matakori Land Company Ltd and Owawenga Station Ltd farming two traditional sheep and beef farms near Otorohanga. Matira sheep and beef business, Burklee Ltd, owned by Malcolm and Sally Lee and Kevin Burke, won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award and the Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award.

For more information, please contact Liz Stolwyk at  or 027 571 6206.

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