Rodney farmers outdid the field at the Ballance Farm Environment (Auckland) gala awards night held on March 29.
They won four of the five awards, with the Narbey family farm at Helensville taking out the Supreme Award.
Mahurangi winners were Greg and Ingrid McCracken, of Wellsford, Sue Meszaros and Karyn Maddren, of Streamland Suffolk at Ahuroa, and Bev Trowbridge, also of Ahuroa.
The annual awards recognise and celebrate good farm practices that promote sustainable land management, and are run in 10 regions throughout New Zealand.
This was the first year Streamland Suffolk had entered the awards and owners Susan and Karyn say the win was a happy surprise.
“We hear so much bad farming news, but the awards are all about the great news and how so many individuals and agri-businesses are contributing to make New Zealand and NZ farming better,” Susan says.
The women bought their 68-hectare property on West Coast Road in 2010. It once formed part of the Jenkins property and was at the heart of their sheep operation.
“We fell in love with it as soon as we saw it. It had good farm infrastructure, good sheep paddocks and an old kauri farm house with history, all set in a beautiful environment.
“The Jenkins’ had already covenanted two large bush blocks to the QE11 National Trust and although it was an old farm, it had been meticulously cared for. We knew our job was going to be to learn how to manage it.”
The property is currently carrying 200 Suffolk ewes and around 80 rams, as well as a few beef cattle and goats that provide milk for the lambs.
It is a dry-summer farm that is run as a low-input system with a clear focus on healthy stock and good biodiversity and conservation practises.
The Ballance award judges commented that Sue and Karyn demonstrated a true commitment to stewardship – streams were being fenced and planted with generous margins, impressive stands of native bush were protected and cared for, and they had established strong relationships with community groups and Auckland Council to achieve their goals.
“(The farm) was well presented and an aesthetically pleasing property that was a pleasure to visit,” the judges said.
While Canadian-born Sue started breeding sheep in the 1970s, Karyn worked in optical manufacturing until recently. They met during a sailing competition in Auckland in the 80s and reconnected when Sue moved to NZ from Australia where she had completed a PhD in animal breeding and genetics.
Sue and Karyn see themselves planting trees, trapping pests, sampling water and caring for their animals and property for many years to come.
“Our vision is to demonstrate that farm sustainability is achievable and we’d like to share that with people in future.”
Streamland is already a flagship site for the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Project and a sponsor of Trees for Survival at Ahuroa School.
Sue estimates that conservation work on the farm so far has probably cost could around $50,000.
“You could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is cost-prohibitive for most farmers, especially sheep farmers. You have to weight up the cost-benefits. Planting trees and fencing makes a huge difference to how you manage the land, and it also prevents erosion which can be costly.
“It is one of the big challenges for our society – people have to be prepared to pay farmers the full price for produce, which includes the cost of taking care of the land.”