Drystock farmers, John and Catherine Ford won the top prize, the Gordon Stephenson Trophy at the 2015 Ballance Farm Environment Awards. They have the distinction of being the first North Island entrant to win the pre-eminent national award since its establishment five years ago. John and Catherine now reflect on their win and what it means to their business.
Highlands Station, a 1240ha beef and sheep property, is situated within the Lake Tarawera and Rotokakahi catchment. Mindful of environmental impacts their farming operation could have on lake water quality within this catchment, the Fords saw the Farm Environment Awards as an opportunity to benchmark their business sustainability. They also hoped that any success might strengthen their case with Bay of Plenty Regional Councils they move into the Lake Tarawera Action Plan process.
The Fords said the application process was easy and they found all the Ballance Environment Award Trust people very helpful. The whole procedure was highly beneficial and they would recommend farmers entering the competition not only for the free advice from the judges, but the chance it gives to stand back and evaluate your business. “Our team here on the farm got right behind us and it would have been a great team building exercise even if we had not won”. This focus on team environment was evidenced in one of the comments from the judges where the Fords were praised for their “effective and outstanding staff management programme”.
The judges said the property has the “wow” factor and had been chosen from out of the 10 regional supreme winners. It stood out in terms of environmental sustainability and impressive production and performance figures. Highlands Station has a “much loved feel” and its outstanding meat and wool production puts it among New Zealand’s leading sheep and beef farming operations.
“Winning the awards has given us a boost to our passion for farming, and we are starting to appreciate how we can perhaps influence NZ agriculture, even if only in a small way, to find a sustainable balance between economic production and the environment” says John.
The next year will be a busy one for the Fords. As part of the prize package they have a week touring NZ meeting the sponsors of the Awards. They will also give a presentation to the Primary Sector Select Committee in Parliament. Funds towards an overseas study trip was part of the prize and while details of this trip are in the infancy stage John has indicated that hopefully it will incorporate looking at farmers in similar sensitive catchments like theirs.
Congratulations John and Catherine and the Highlands team on showcasing our district on the national farming stage.