Beautification at heart of epic dairy conversion

When Damien Watson started working at Waikato dairy farm Renown in 2006, pine trees were being felled around him as he brought in the cows.


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He’s seen a “heck of a lot of changes over the years” as the 26,000ha forestry block was converted into 19 dairy farms in an epic joint venture between land owners Wairaki Estate and leaseholders Landcorp Farming Pāmu.

The 660ha Renown unit has an undeniable ‘wow’ factor, thanks to a long-term commitment to beautification and biodiversity that is equal to the focus on performance and profitability. Under the guidance of Damien and Joan Barendsen, it took out an impressive suite of awards at the 2020 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards, run by the NZ Farm Environment Trust.

“I used to take the cows through a stand of forest to their grazing blocks,” Damien says.

“Right from the start of the conversion, Wairaki Estate had the vision for planting and retirement of land across all the farms – they could see what they’d look like and weren’t just thinking about making money. Now it’s a pretty awesome-looking farm that’s gotten better as retired and wetland areas have established.

“I feel like I’m looking after a Rolls Royce farm. It was a lot of work initially but now it’s just a matter of maintaining the areas and letting nature do her thing.

“We’ve got three ponds where the guys can go duck shooting. The bird life is awesome – we encounter large groups of pheasants and quails while travelling round the farm. Many of the planted areas act as a filter for surface water run-off during periods of high rainfall.”

Role models in water management

Innovation and sustainability are central drivers at Renown that has an outstanding approach to water management, including a sophisticated water quality monitoring regime that has been part of the conversion since it began.

“We’ve been taking deep water samples using live symmetry year-on-year for a long time, with all that information feeding back into our modelling programmes.

“Knowledge is key – once you know the patterns, you can make sure you’re not applying nutrients in places that don’t need it.

“It’s great to be able to say we’re actively helping to improve water quality.”

More recently, water meters were installed that monitor total daily water use as well as stock and dairy shed water.

“Any increases above daily limits are immediately alerted via text and live online telemetry, so that any problem can be quickly sorted. Every morning, the guys arrive and check the meters and can see if there have been any leaks overnight.”

For others thinking of putting in a telemetry system, Damien’s advice is simple.

“Make sure it’s fit-for-purpose and that it’s well thought out – don’t just go for the Rolls Royce version. Go for the option you can afford that will do the job. Once they’re in, they pretty much look after themselves.”


  • A strong vision is essential to success
  • Knowledge is key
  • If you’re thinking of entering the BFEA – give it a go

Run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, the Ballance Farm Environment Awards recognise and celebrate good farm practices that promote sustainable land management. In 2020, Renown won the following Waikato BFEA:

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award
DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award
Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award
WaterForce Wise with Water Award
Read more about the team.

Enter the Ballance Farm Environment Awards

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