SI's top farmers started with three little pigs

Hawarden pig farmers Steve and Josie Sterne with daughter, Holly, after being named the Lincoln University Foundation ...

Hawarden pig farmers Steve and Josie Sterne with daughter, Holly, after being named the Lincoln University Foundation South Island Farmers of the Year.

Canterbury pig farmers Steve and Josie Sterne began with three pigs to build a large operation, convincing judges they were the South Island Farmers of the Year at a close final at Lincoln University last night.

The owners of Patoa Farms with their daughter, Holly, in North Canterbury's Hawarden, edged out stiff competition to lead the four finalist field in the Lincoln University Foundation competition. 

Their management of the large scale free-farmed pig breeding and finishing operation impressed the judges enough to hand them the prizewinning purse of a $20,000 travel grant for overseas business study.

Chief judge Nicky Hyslop said the Sternes had shown impressive growth, technical excellence, efficient production and strategic focus.

They demonstrated that it was possible to achieve at the highest levels of farming technology and business management in an outdoor free-roaming stock operation, she said.

Despite being a latecomer to farming Steve Sterne has quickly made up for lost time.

"When I went farming at the age of 39 I did not expect to be standing in front of an audience like this today. The dream is possible. You should not be deterred by the huge effort of amassing enough capital to go farming. I started with three pigs in a woodshed ... they keep multiplying."

The farm has 3500 breeding sows and sells 115,000 fat pigs a year. It employs 43 staff and has a $25 million annual turnover.

Also impressing the judges was their technical production system which had stood the test at all levels including the sows in their outdoor environment.

Runners up were Robin and Lois Greer, who operate a 160 hectare conventional dairy farm and a 120ha organic operation on adjoining properties at Tuturau, Southland. 

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On the site they produce their own brand, Retro Organics, of organic dairy products including yogurts and cheeses.

Hyslop said the operation of the on-farm factory, and the Greer's strong focus on adding value from the production system to market, were outstanding aspects of the business. They won praised for their high levels of innovation in the business, especially the development of new products.

Four special category prizes of $5000 each were also awarded at the finals.

The Sternes won the BNZ award for Resource Management for building a happy and productive team and off-farm relationships with suppliers and customers. Their operation produces about 15 per cent of New Zealand pig meat in an outdoor free-roaming stock operation.

The Silver Fern Farms "Plate to Pasture" award was won by Zino Holdings Ltd, operated by Mark and Sam Zino, a 1008ha flats and rolling hills property at Hawarden in North Canterbury, focusing on breeding and fattening sheep, deer and beef cattle.

The Lincoln University prize for Technology and Innovation was won by Barry and Julie Crawford who run a sheep breeding and finishing property near Gore with a strong focus on high-end lamb meat production.

The Sternes rounded out a good evening by winning the Farmlands Cooperative Prize for Resource Use Efficiency.

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