It's a fair cop, our farming editor done it

All right, I'll come clean. It's my fault. I was the one who snuck on to Colin Armer's farm in the middle of the night and broke his effluent disposal system.

I've been doing it for years – creeping on to dairy farms under the cover of darkness to wreak environmental mayhem.

And here's the scoop – I'm just one of a team, all of us from newspapers around the country, with the sole aim of ruining New Zealand's clean green reputation.

My beat has been the Crafar farms. I've made sure they have had a procession of incidents that has made their name a byword for dirty dairying.

I almost leapt up in the middle of the endless speechifying at Saturday night's farm environment awards dinner at Parliament to confess. But I held back to reveal all to you now.

The timing is right. It is clear you're on to us. Speaker after speaker at the dinner blamed the news media for dairying's bad name.

They complained that while we highlight the pollution cases we don't give equal coverage to the good news, the farmers who are exemplars of environmental best-practice.

No, we don't. It would be like putting the story of a person who committed a heinous crime on the front page and right alongside it, a story of a person who was leading an honest and upright life.

The point is that we should all live this way and, by and large, we all do. I'm sure you want us to point out the ones who don't.

Dairying should not be an exception.

No-one believes all dairy farmers are polluters, but the fact remains that as an industry they are slow to lift their standards.

A good newspaper, with its finger on the pulse of public opinion, wouldn't be doing its job if it did not point this out.

Actually, the other side, the stories of the farmers who are doing all they can to protect the environment, are being run. They appear on farming pages up and down the country.

It's not the front page, but how many of you buy a paper, read just the front page and throw it away?

Enough of this. You get my point. On to the awards.

First, the dinner. Rarely have I tasted a more tender beef steak, not as a judge at the Steak of Origin competition or as a social diner. The Beehive catering team performed wonders to give all 300 guests such an experience.

The awards stem from an idea by Waikato farmer Gordon Stephenson in 1991 and have grown to include nine regions. All but Taranaki, Nelson-Marlborough and Westland have been signed up.

For the farmers who enter the awards, it is an exacting time.

At the regional level each entrant undergoes a critical analysis by farmer judges and finalists are chosen after robust debate. Winners then host on-farm field days that attract big crowds. The search for a national winner subjects them to further scrutiny.

This year's winners, North Otago sheep and beef farmers Blair and Jane Smith, said as many as 10 judges inspected them and their property.

Judging by the short film we saw, they are the beneficiaries of previous generations' work. More than 60,000 trees have been planted to stabilise the hills and provide shelter and shade since 1972 and more are planned.

To say they keep busy is an understatement. They look after three farms, including a perendale stud and lamb finishing, angus cows and calves, dairy grazers and beehives, often in harsh conditions.

They have three children under five and Jane still has time for netball, Playgroup, Plunket, organising a school centenary and her part-time job as a Rabobank rural manager.

Blair is a Central South Island Farmer Council member, a Perendale Society judge and rugby coach.

They are planting up gullies and the quality of their streams' water is such that they have been able to introduce native crayfish.

The judges and all the entrants emphasised the need for the farms to be economically as well as environmentally sustainable.

We saw prime examples of that. In the lower North Island, for example,Wellington regional winners Derek and Christine Daniell's farm Wairere is home to New Zealand biggest romney stud.

Hawke's Bay winners James and Jane Hunter are also this year's winners of the romney section of the national ewe hogget competition, and Manawatu-Whanganui winners Paul and Donna Edwards manage Rangedale for the Government farmer, Landcorp.

Dairy farmers also featured with three regional winners, and the judges talked of seeing outstanding riparian plantings, happy staff, big effluent ponds and the protection of native birds.

We left with the words of Gordon Stephenson ringing in our ears. His advice to the winners was: "You need to have a vision of farming for the future of New Zealand.

Farming is going to go on forever and it has to be sustainable. You have to be the ambassador of this idea wherever you go in your future careers. Never forget that you have won an award for sustainable farming in New Zealand."

This is his "100-year rule".

"Just think, when you're doing something, what would be the effect if somebody went on doing it for 100 years?"

That's good advice for all of us, not just farmers.