Genevieve spreads eco-friendly farm message

HOME ON THE RANGE: Geneviere Steven at work on her parents' South Canterbury farm.
HOME ON THE RANGE: Geneviere Steven at work on her parents' South Canterbury farm.

Genevieve Steven will be the youngest person competing for the top honour at the national Green Agriculture Innovation Awards - which is a shame, she thinks.

The 20-year-old Lincoln university student, also a former Craighead Diocesan School pupil in Timaru, won the Viafos Youth Award category at the awards, which is given for outstanding commitment by a young person to spreading the word about biological farming.

As a result, she is now one of 10 candidates in the running for the supreme award, which celebrates ecologically friendly agricultural practices.

It's a "humbling honour" for Steven, who is setting out to change hearts and minds on the topic of traditional farming practices.

She hopes the award will serve as a springboard for her ultimate goal - an increase in the profile of biological farming, particularly among young people.

"I hope I can encourage young people to get involved, and ask themselves why they haven't heard about biological farming, and why it isn't being taught at university," she said.

Biological farming involves the minimisation of inputs (such as herbicides and fertilisers) with the goal of maximising outputs.

Steven describes it as "looking after the little things to take care of the big things," which is an approach that is slowly gaining traction in modern day farming communities.

The problem, Steven said, is the lack of exposure about the practice, particularly among young people.

It wasn't a problem she ever had herself - it was her dad who got her involved from a young age, as she grew up on the family farm near Timaru.

"He figured out that something wasn't quite right with conventional farming, and that it made sense to do it a different way. It sort of rubbed off on me. I'm quite fortunate to have had that influence in my life.

"A lot of people who are into biological farming are well into their careers, so I've got a head start, which is quite exciting."

She's leveraging her early experience to liaise with high school students on the topic of biological farming, and will provide support to those who are keen to follow in her footsteps. That's not a new experience either. In 2011 she attended a Get Ahead Careers Experience Day, which motivated her to start up the Craighead TeenAg Club, encouraging more girls to get involved in agriculture.

Of the 10 nominees for the supreme award, Steven is the youngest by more than a decade, which is precisely why the recognition is so important, she said.

"The aim is definitely to get people into it. I think I'm sort of influencing my peers around me, but you need a lot of people to influence a big network.

"Hopefully young people will get into it. They will if I have anything to do with it."

Steven is in her second year at Lincoln on a DairyNZ scholarship, studying biochemistry, animal sciences, plant sciences, soil science and management papers.

The supreme winner will be announced at an awards dinner on August 6 in Rotorua.