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Opou Station wins 2 farm environment awards

28 Mar 2011

Opou Station wins 2 farm environment awards

All care is taken to minimise compaction of the predominantly heavy clay loam soils on David and Libby Clark’s 280ha cropping property at Manutuke. This approach has seen them take out 2 awards at the first East Coast Ballance Farm Awards presented in Hawkes Bay on March 24.

Opou Station took out the nutrients management award and the harvest award in this Gisborne District Council sponsored event.

Aware of the limitations of the clay loam soil type of his land south west of Gisborne, David has an intrepid approach to options out side conventional cultivation practises.

The award judges commended this and noted his results, writing: “He has managed to greatly improve soil structure and increase earthworm numbers since adopting a controlled traffic strip till system. David farms some of the most difficult to manage soils (heavy clay) on the flats, but to look at they have better structure and resilience than some of the best soil types (well drained silt loams) on the Gisborne flats. This is a remarkable example of what can be achieved when we look after the soil in a responsible way.”

David took over farming his family’s property in the mid 1980s. His great-grandfather came to the place in 1882. It was a mixed dry stock and cropping operation until 1992 when David switched to cropping. He grows maize, a range of varieties for different contracts, all pre-sold as it is planted. Specific hybrids of milling maize for food industry consumption and other types for use in food manufacturing and stock feed.

Prior to exploring the strip tillage option David had been working at the other end of the spectrum, with load spreading cultivation options. “The emphasis in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to spread the load to reduce compaction,” he recalls. “We tried to minimise ground pressure with wide tyres and the like, we’d been doing it for 10 years but I didn’t feel we were making much progress.”

The advent of high accuracy Real Time Kinetic (RTK) GPS, allowing placement of wheels to within millimetres of where a vehicle had been last time one was in the paddock, prompted David’s interest in strip tillage as a viable option for his place. He credits the Nuffield Scholarship work of Hugh Ritchie, which investigated minimising cultivation to avoid loss of topsoil in the wind, as helpful. “Having heavy soil we don’t have that problem. We were looking for the same outcome, but for different reasons,” David recalls.

Using machinery imported from the US, pulled by a tractor with a front wheelbase widened to fit the track of the rear wheels, and a Cat Challenger with narrow tracks and wide track spacing, the farm’s full-time employee Matt Shann does all the driving. At harvest time, a jockey bin stays on the strip tillage ‘tram lines’ and is taken to the trucks waiting in loading areas. As well as ensuring optimum soil health, this approach allows savings in fuel, labour and machinery wear and tear. No spring cultivation is undertaken. “Most of the reason people cultivate is to undo all the damage caused by machinery from the previous crop.”

Despite “getting a bit lonely” with being a front-runner of the method, David is optimistic about his chosen approach. “Once you take the pressure off the soil it seems to look after itself,” he says.

The Supreme Title went to a Takapau farming couple who have developed a highly sustainable “picture perfect” farm. Judges described the Central Hawke's Bay farming operation of Steve and Jane Wyn-Harris as “one of the most highly developed and sustainable sheep and cattle farms in New Zealand”.

The also collected the Beef+Lamb NZ Livestock Award and the PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award.

Steve and Jane’s farming business comprises 358ha spread over two properties east of Takapau. Livestock is grazed on the farm’s easy-rolling contour divided into 130 paddocks totalling 320ha. Stock wintered in 2010 included 194 rising-one-year bulls, 57 rising-two-year bulls, 1392 ewes, 522 hoggets and 148 stud ram hoggets. A field day will be held at the property with the date to be advised.

Award-winners in the 2011 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards were:

• Supreme Award Winners; Steve and Jane Wyn-Haris, Marlow Hill, Takapau.
• Beef and Lamb NZ Livestock Award; Steve and Jane Wyn-Haris, Marlow Hill, Takapau.
• PGG Wrightson Land and life Award; Steve and Jane Wyn-Haris, Marlow Hill, Takapau.
• East Coast Farming For The Future Award (sponsored by Gisborne District Council and Hawke's Bay Regional Council); James Hunter, Rangitoto, Porangahau.
• Ballance Agri-Nutrients Habitat Improvement Award; James Hunter, Rangitoto, Porangahau.
• Ballance Agri-Nutrients Nutrient Management Award; David Clark, Opou Station, Manutuke.
• Hill Laboratories Harvest Award; David Clark, Opou Station, Manutuke.
• Massey University Discovery Award; Brittany Thompson, Elephant Hill Winery, Te Awanga.
• LIC Dairy Farm Award; Nick and Nicky Dawson, Great Glen Farms, Patoka.


Ballance farm awards

Shaun Burkett (GDC), David Clark and 2 judges