Outstanding Arable Operation Earns Top Title in Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards


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The desire to excel has seen arable farmers Eric and Maxine Watson win the Supreme Award in the 2011 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

The Watsons, who farm 490ha east of Ashburton, were described by judges as being “well on the way to becoming one of the best arable operations in New Zealand”.

They learnt of their win at a Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) ceremony on April 1 where they also collected the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Nutrient Management Award, the Environment Canterbury Water Efficiency Award and the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award.

Eric and Maxine bought their farm in 1992 and with the help of one staff member grow a wide range of crops for seed production, including cereals, grasses, vegetables and pulses.

BFEA judges said the couple’s “first class management” has helped them consistently achieve yields in the top five percent for arable operations.

“Eric and Maxine have been quick to apply new technology to the farming system, and every management decision is reasoned, fully understood and science- based.

“Variable rate irrigation, self-steer machinery and minimum tillage equipment are features of the farm that make it stand out from the crowd and contribute to its outstanding performance.”

The Watsons were pioneers in the field of Variable Rate (VR) irrigation and five of their nine lateral irrigators are fitted with VR equipment. Controlled via GPS wireless technology, this system utilises electromagnetic mapping to ‘recognise’ the soil being irrigated and vary application rates according to the soil’s needs.

This means crops get the exact quantity of moisture required and no water is wasted. For Rangitata Holdings, this saves an estimated 100,000 litres of water annually.

Judges said the Watsons are clearly focused on soil health, regarding this as the “life-blood” of the operation. They are very aware of their proximity to the Ashburton River and the responsibility they have to avoid nitrate leaching. All wheat, ryegrass and fescue crops are tested for residual soil nitrogen in the spring and this information is used to calculate the amount and timing of nitrogen fertiliser application.

With their fibrous root systems, ryegrass and fescue crops are viewed as an essential part of the crop rotation.

“During the grass phase, soil structure and organic matter levels improve to the extent that soils coming out of a five-year stand of fescue are visibly superior to those under other crops,” judges said.

Instead of conventional cultivation methods, a considerable investment has been made in non-inversion equipment aimed at incorporating residues and creating a seedbed without turning the soil.

Judges said these measures are part of Eric and Maxine’s constant vigilance for the environment they rely upon, and their concern for the property’s ongoing viability.

Judges were also were impressed with the efficient use of manpower on the property, noting staff levels were remarkably low considering the scale and intensity of the operation.

They praised the couple’s desire to constantly improve farm performance and described their business as a “clear partnership” that shares strategic planning and overall management.

Knowledge and practices are gleaned from conferences, shows and displays, both nationally and internationally.

The Watsons try to travel overseas most years to visit family and other farming operations.

Maxine is an active member of a number of community clubs and societies in Ashburton and also works at the college library.

A BFEA field day will be held on the Supreme Award-winning farm, with the date to be notified.

Other winners in the 2011 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards were;

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Habitat Improvement Award; Brian and Linda Groome – Annavale

LIC Dairy Farm Award; Andrew and Nicky Watt – Cloverdale Holdings Ltd.

Massey University Discovery Award; Mark and Louise Eder – Omihi Creek

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award; Brian and Linda Groome – Annavale

PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award; Brian and Linda Groome – Annavale

For more information on the 2011 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact Nicola Hunt, BFEA Regional Co-ordinator, ph 027 5497640, email  or James Hoban, BFEA Judging Coordinator, ph 027 2577986.
For more information on the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust or the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone 07 834 0400, or email .

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