The McFetridges, who farm two separate dairy units on Omanawa Road, just outside Tauranga, received the region’s top environmental prize at a BFEA ceremony on February 22, 2013.
BFEA judges described the family’s farming business as a well-rounded operation that is “meeting economic, social and environmental objectives”.
But 32 years ago it was a much different story. In 1981, one of the McFetridge farms was submerged under millions of tonnes of sludge after a canal on the Ruahihi power scheme collapsed. This was a devastating blow for Dennis and Judith and it has taken many years of hard work to rectify the damage.
They now run the operation with the help of their son Gordon, a Lincoln graduate, who returned to the farm after five years in the rural banking industry. He manages the farms, which are leased from the family trust, with the help of two full-time staff. Casual workers, including university students, are also employed when required.
McFetridge Farms Ltd milks 260 cows on the 70ha (effective) ‘Top Farm’ and 180 cows on 60ha effective ‘Lower Farm’.
The rolling to steep contour on Lower Farm is well suited to younger cows while the Top Farm, which has flat to rolling contour, is better suited to older cows (four years and older).
Judges said the properties are “aesthetically pleasing and highly productive” and the challenging topography has been wisely developed for dairy farming.
Difficult sidlings and gullies have been either left in native bush or planted in woodlots.
Both farms have extensive shelterbelts. Riparian plantings have been used to protect and enhance waterways. Areas of native bush have been fenced and now contain a diversity of species. An ongoing specimen tree planting programme is also in place.
BFEA judges were impressed with the McFetridges’ approach to farm management. Instead of increasing cow numbers they aim to run a lower stocking rate while lifting per cow production. This has been achieved through improved feeding, better grazing management and a strong focus on animal health.
About 8-10% of the farm is regrassed annually with improved pasture species. Poorer performing paddocks are successfully cropped with Turnips.
Judges also noted the McFetridges’ excellent financial control, well-kept herd records and sound relationships with staff.
They said the family’s experience and acquired skills in areas like rural banking and water management had been of great benefit to the farming operation.
The McFetridges demonstrate a good understanding of their soils. Their low stocking rate helps to sustain soils and pasture. Regular pasture walks are used to assist with grazing management and cropping decisions. Erosion issues have been addressed with assistance from the Regional Council.
Judges were also impressed with the family’s “very effective” effluent management system, which utilises pond storage, eco pumps and travelling irrigators.
The McFetridge family have farmed in the district for three generations. Dennis, a JP, and Judith have strong associations with the local community and farming organisations.
As well as winning the Supreme title, the McFetridges also collected the LIC Dairy Farm Award, the Massey University Discovery Award, the WaterForce Integrated Management Award and the Meridian Energy Excellence Award.
A BFEA field day will be held on their farm on March 26.
Other winners in the 2013 Bay of Plenty Ballance Farm Environment Awards were:
Supreme Winner, LIC Dairy Farm Award, Massey University Discovery Award, WaterForce Integrated Management Award and Meridian Energy Excellence Award: Dennis, Judith and Gordon McFetridge, McFetridge Farms Ltd.
Ballance Nutrient Management Award: Ian and Georgina Lawrence, Braewood Holdings Ltd and Snowhill Trust.
Beef+Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award: Landcorp Rotomahana, Matthew and Annabell Lane, Landcorp Farming Ltd.
Hill Laboratories Harvest Award and PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award: Ben and Heidi Rosewarne, Blueberry Corner.
Donaghys Farm Stewardship Award: Karl and Maggy Buhler, Pukemarama.
Zespri Kiwifruit Orchard Award: Jeff and Shirley Roderick, Kytui Orchards.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environmental Award 1: Jeremy and Sharon Cotter, Te Kominga.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environmental Award 2: Walter and Mary van Rossum, Exlo Jersey.
The Ballance Farm Environment Awards are barely noticed outside farming circles.
But they are a wonderful showcase for best practice and the winners become mentors for others who aspire to emulate them.