Farm plantings help snare top award

LAY OF THE LAND: Justin Vennell, supreme winner of 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Award, speaks to guests at a fielday on his property.
LAY OF THE LAND: Justin Vennell, supreme winner of 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Award, speaks to guests at a fielday on his property.

Winners of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards in the Horizons Regional Council area Mary and Justin Vennell have planted 57,000 trees since 2007 on their Rewa sheep and beef farm.

They hosted more than 100 people, mainly farmers, but some academics and rural business people, at a farm field day they held as supreme winners of the awards.

Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA), which give awards for protection and enhancement of the environment on farms in the Horizons Regional Council area, celebrated its 10th year.

Fourteen farms - seven sheep and beef and seven dairy farms - entered this year's event.

As well as the Supreme Award, the Vennells also collected the WaterForce Integrated Management Award and the Horizons Regional Council Award (for the integration of trees).

Judges commended the Vennells' approach and noted a willingness to undertake environmental protection work "even when outside financial assistance was not available".

BFEA chairwoman Shelley Dew-Hopkins said that in the 10 years of the contest, farms had steadily improved and the awards were better run.

Justin Vennell said there were many positive comments on the property as people rode over it on quad bikes. Some people thought more trees needed to be planted to protect the farm's top soil and stop it being eroded.

He said 29 hectares had been retired, and most of it was planted with native species. Another 80ha was in production forestry, planted with exotics for later milling.

The farm was a total of 489ha, and Vennell said most of the area planted had been a hard place to carry out mustering, was not producing well and there were dangerous bluffs.

There was also a waterway through the centre of the farm, which the Vennells had fenced off and planted.

Vennell said they entered the BFEA in 2008 and did not make the finals, but they took on board judges' comments.

He said they had started planting on retired land in 1991. "Then we got a SLUI [Horizons sustainable land use initiative] whole farm plan in 2007 and it was a continuation of what we were doing, but gave us a better understanding of the farm and soils here."

Vennell said they planted more trees as money came out of the farm and enabled them to do more.

He said he was always open to new ideas, and began helicopter cropping in 2007. First it was on easier country to improve pasture; now they are moving to steeper country.

In last year's drought Vennell said the clover and plantain, which had been introduced, were the only green areas of the farm.

He said it was important to fit the stock and trees to the land.

This included breeding ewes on the steep fragile soils, intensive cattle finishing on the easy free draining soils and forestry on very steep land, or land that was uneconomic to farm.

There is a wetland, with a pond on the farm. It is planted and attracts water fowl.

"The kids love it. They boat and canoe on it." The Vennells have three children.

Future plans included cutting scrub, increasing soil fertility, improving productivity and profitability, educating the children, and repaying some farm debt that might mean they can help the children in their chosen careers.

Around the house, and on the farm are plantings which won the Vennells the top environment award.

"We were chuffed to win and were not expecting it. In fact I said to Mary, we won't get through. So it was a surprise."


-The farm: Richcrest. Sheep, beef and forestry. 489 hectares at Rewa, in northern Manawatu. Contour is flat to moderate hill country, some steep ground, there are some gorges on the property.
-4500 stock units
-1000 millimetres of rainfall a year
-250-370 metres above sea level.
-74 paddocks.

Manawatu Standard