NZ Farmer - Farmers praised for protecting waterways in a tough environment

An award-winning Bay of Plenty farm is looking to dispel popular misconceptions about the industry, Fritha Tagg reports. 

David and Carol Hodge decided to enter the Ballance Farm Environment awards after hearing negative comments about farming and waterways. They wanted to redress the misconception.

"I felt it was important to let the general public know about the positive work farmers are doing for the environment," Carol says. "Too often all the public get is the negative and there are plenty of farmers doing a great job in protecting the environment and working hard to improve and protect waterways on farms."

The Hodge farm won three of the awards – the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environmental Award, the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award and the Treeline Native Nursery Farm Stewardship Award.

The couple and their two children, Tony, 27, and Katie, 25, have been farming their sheep and beef property at Pikowai since 1985. The farm is only about six kilometres from the Bay of Plenty coast and the catchment area empties into the sea so it is vital to have clean waterways.

The extensive plantings, fencing, ponds and dams the couple have carried out on have improved the quality of water flowing into local streams and rivers.

They are both from farming backgrounds – David from sheep and beef and Carol from a dairy farming family  - and they decided that the two, sometimes different styles, didn't always mesh. Their answer was to divide the responsibilities up. The farm is in two adjoining blocks – 200ha and 240ha. For many years, David ran one block and Carol the other but now the 240ha block is leased to son Tony. Carol is largely responsible for the stock work on the 200ha farm. She breeds angus cattle and coopworth sheep while David does the maintenance on both blocks.

 "We have different ways of doing things but we still run it as one block. "It works for us. It means we can work to our strengths but we come together and work very much as a team when it is needed," Carol says.

The Hodge Family Trust farm (200ha) runs 110 angus breeding cows, 40 rising two in-calf heifers, 50 fattening heifers (some are sold as breeding cattle), along with 43 rising two steers and 114 weaners.

On the sheep side they run 500 commercial ewes, 120 stud ewes, 80 ram hoggets, 80 ewe hoggets and 220 hoggets in lamb. They recently bought a coopworth FE Gold stud from their ram breeder, Nick Ewen.

"It was a very good flock to buy, testing at 0.6mg," David says. That places it at the top of the scale measuring eczema tolerance.

The decision to buy the coopworth stud was influenced by an increase in facial eczema in their area and the need to breed tolerant stock. They already bred coopworths and wanted to become producers of good quality stock that could be sold to other breeders.

They have similar thinking with their pure bred angus cattle - breeding and growing, with their ideal market being other angus studs and the supply of angus bulls to the dairy industry.

Carol says she keeps a close eye on her stock and is always keen to improve their line or introduce new bloodlines when she can.

"I aim to have my fattening heifers over 500kg liveweight when they leave the farm and the breeding bulls go to dairy farmers at about 16 months."

This season they have also taken on 143 dairy grazers (rising two-year-olds) because they had excess grass. In a couple of weeks the dairy grazers will transfer to Tony's 240ha block.

"Having Tony right next door works well for both," Carol says. "When we want to go away he will shift stock and keep an eye on our block and the same goes for him. It is a win-win. Tony is leasing the block for three years and at the end of that time we will look into succession planning. We have two children so we have to plan and be fair."

The environmental work on the property has been a work in progress. Its contour is steep to rolling with some paddocks flat enough for making supplements.

Recent earthworks to contour two paddocks have increased the area available for making winter feed.

About eight years ago David and Carol fenced off the waterways and planted both sides with natives. Detention dams with culverts have been built in flood-prone paddocks to hold back and slow the movement of water, reducing erosion and flooding. They are particularly pleased with the effectiveness of the detention dams.

"In the past some of these areas would flood up to fence height in heavy rain, but building the dams now controls the water."

The dams are so discrete it is hard to see where they are located with contoured banks and culverts. One dam has been built on a neighbouring property, to help slow water entering areas around the stream which have also been fenced out and planted. It's a great example of co-operation between neighbours to achieve a good outcome for water quality.

A stream side area which had mature poplar trees has been transformed by removing the poplars, which were starting to fall in high winds. The area is fenced off and now planted with pines. "Our retirement plan," Carol says with a grin.

The couple clearly care deeply for their land. During the planting and contouring process they found both contractors and BOP regional council staff shared their vision, working with them to enhance and protect waterways, without compromising farm productivity. Carol says she can now see first-hand how the changes in stopping erosion have made the land more productive.

"It is easy to see where the water comes from. Our farm is a natural catchment for so much of the land between here and the sea. It has to flow somewhere. We just needed to slow it down, build in filters, redirect and the result has worked well."

The largest area of retirement and planting is in a former steep paddock, bounded by a stream and the result is dramatic as the plants grow and spread. As the plantings mature they have added to the natural beauty of the rolling land. The pond formed from contouring now has native planting surrounding it and is a haven for the local ducks. The planted shade trees are now being used by both cattle and sheep and will continue to improve as they age.

The next project will be to upgrade the farm's water supply. With waterways all fenced off, stock no longer have free access to streams. Water is pumped from a spring at the front of the farm and reticulated to troughs. A new water system will be installed pumping water to reservoirs at the top of the farm, and gravity fed to troughs in all paddocks.

The award  judges, Ray Hayward, Joanna Carr and Dan Griffin, were impressed with what the Hodges had achieved.

"The extensive retirement work initiated and completed in the last eight years was exemplary and has resulted in a visually outstanding property," they said. "There has been excellent use of management techniques to ensure preservation of light soils along with pasture quality.

"Overall, water quality on the farm is excellent. All waterways are fenced. Riparian planting on the farm is excellent. The amount of area planted, and the quality of the plantings, is a real stand out.

"The amount of work carried out under the two current Land Environment Plans in eight years is amazing and a real credit to your commitment," they told the couple.

"You have a well run dry stock business with quality stockmanship and sound breeding philosophy."

They said that although Carol and David had different management styles, this has been used to grow a strong business, allowing for individual personal growth and satisfaction.

Life on the Bay of Plenty sheep and beef farm is not all work. The well-used tennis court alongside the homestead is popular with all the family.  Carol and David both play every week, along with enthusiastic locals.