Napier farmer Philip Holt wins East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards


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Trees have been grown on Maraetara by five generations of the Holt family and Philip Holt is still planting.

The Bay View farmer was named the supreme winner at the East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards at the Bushmere Arms in Gisborne on Wednesday night. Philip also won the WaterForce Integrated Management Award and shared the Farm Stewardship Award, which is supported in partnership with the QEII National Trust and the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust.

Philip and Robyn Holt have farmed the original part of Maraetara near Bay View in the Hastings District for 35 years. Some of the blocks now under the Maraetara umbrella have been farmed by Philip’s great grandfather and by two of his grandfathers. The Awards judges said Philip has immense pride in what he and his family have achieved historically, what he has done himself and in his plans for the future.

The judges said Maraetara is in a tough farming environment with one of the lowest rainfalls in the region.

“This property experiences drought, floods, weeds and the challenge of lifestyle neighbours… and is harder to farm than it looks,” they said.

Maraetara Farming Company farms 1485 hectares (1305ha effective) mostly medium to steep hill country with 100ha of flats. The land includes 88ha of pines, 14ha of alternative species, 21ha of planted natives, an 18ha QE II National Trust covenant and an 184ha open space covenant.

Philip and Robyn took over the original family farm of 290ha in 1982 and have purchased numerous titles over the years as different neighbouring farms were subdivided. Maraetara now includes 18 titles ranging in size from 150ha to 1.5ha. Philip leases another 145ha locally and a 200ha farm at Rangiwahia.

“This has helped us to build scale and options for succession,” Philip says, referring to the couple’s three adult children – Catherine, Philip and Alexander.

“But it also means we have about 70 neighbours… only three of them farmers.”

The Awards judges said the Holt family’s proximity to town has its challenges, but the positives have been embraced and the farm has regular visitors as Philip proactively tries to break down the urban/rural divide.

Maraetara has an open gate philosophy when it comes to schools and conferences, walking groups, garden rambles, horse treks, motorbike fundraisers and volunteer planting groups. 

“In some ways I feel the social responsibility of the connection between rural and urban getting wider. I think it’s so important the urban people get an opportunity to visit and farm and see what goes on.”

The Awards judges said Philip provides “quality livestock in a challenging climatic and physical environment”.

Maraetara carries 3639 mixed-age Coopworth ewes, 1161 two-tooth ewes and 1385 ewe hoggets. The farm produces 35,000kg of wool.

On the beef side, it has 310 Angus breeding cows plus 167 R2 heifers, 108 R1 steers and 115 R2 steers.  The farm also has 273 mixed age Boer-cross does in the goat operation with 152 goats sold last year.

Philip says he has a flexible policy under wise land use principles in a challenging environment – expensive land, extremes of climate, multiple neighbours and significant weed issues. The latter was the reason goats were first introduced to the farm in the 1950s.

Every opportunity is taken to collect and store water, including a 9million litre stock water dam, with 150 gravity-fed troughs and more than 70 ponds/dams – all of which are cleaned out regularly.

However, half of the flats was originally under the sea (pre 1931 earthquake) and can flood at any time of the year.

The farm bounds Napier’s Ahuriri Estuary, a wetland of national significance. A 7ha dry, easterly cliff face overlooking the estuary has been planted with thousands of native plants and a small shelter has been built nicknamed the “room with a view”.

“We don’t have a holiday house or boat, this is why we’ve built our room with a view. It’s our time off the farm, but we’re actually just going out the back and appreciating what we have.”

Award winners

A number of other category awards were announced at the East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Newstead Farm, owned by Robert and Helen Pattullo, at Puketapu near Napier, won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award.

McNeill Farms, a sheep, beef and forestry partnership between John and Sue Upton and Ben and Katie Absolom at Rissington near Napier won the Massey University Innovation Award and shared the Farm Stewardship Award with Philip Holt.

Matawai sheep and beef farmers Eugene and Pania King won the CB Norwood Distributors Ltd Agri-Business Management Award, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award and the East Coast Farming for the Future Award, as supported by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and the Gisborne District Council.

The Hill Laboratories Harvest Award went to Gisborne’s Geoff and Nicola Wright from Wright’s Vineyard and Winery.

For more information please contact East Coast regional coordinator Kate Taylor on 027 603 2200 or .

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