Athol on list for visit by Sainsbury's

Successful farmers Heather and Steve Wilkins outside The Vege Shed on their Athol property.
Successful farmers Heather and Steve Wilkins outside The Vege Shed on their Athol property.

An agricultural team from British supermarket chain Sainsbury's will visit a successful Athol Valley farm next month as part of a tour of Southland export lamb producers.

Alliance Group is hosting the tour and general manager of marketing Murray Brown said Steve and Heather Wilkins' property was chosen as one of its 100 or so Sainsbury's group suppliers because they were "top quality farmers".

Representatives from two of Sainsbury's agricultural processors, Dunbia and Randall Parker Foods, will be travelling with the group.

Two British farmers, who were part of a new exchange programme between the two countries, will travel with the group to study New Zealand farming.

Alliance is also showcasing its revolutionary newly released Hoofprint software during the visit.

As a member of Alliance's Sainsbury's producer group, the Wilkins are using the new web-based, farmer friendly programme which keeps tabs on environmental, on-farm, carbon footprints.

The scientific model was developed by a Dunedin company and produces farm performance information based on data collected to determine the carbon footprint, including measuring water and fuel usage.

It helps suppliers measure and monitor agricultural greenhouse gases associated with their farms and improve their productivity.

The world first for sheep meat farming would be used to benchmark New Zealand farmers against those offshore and the visiting group would be studying its implications, Mr Brown said.

Alliance Group supplies about 70 per cent of New Zealand's export lamb business to Sainsbury's.

"They are our biggest individual customer of chilled lamb."

Mr Wilkins will not be there for the February 3 Sainsbury visit.

He left on Thursday for Britain as part of the prestigious Nuffield Scholarship programme, one of just five New Zealand farmers named in the programme for 2013.

He will study crop farming in Britain on the first month of overseas travel planned this year as part of his $50,000 scholarship.

Mr Wilkins will also attend an international Nuffield Scholars' conference in Toronto, Canada, in March, with high profile policy makers from the United States and Canada.

The couple are renowned for diversifying their business, launching The Vege Shed, a successful retail business developed in a transformed wool shed at their farm gate.

They sell their export-quality meat, homegrown vegetables and preserves from the business, which was launched after their children made $800 in eight weeks one winter selling swedes at their farm gate.

The Southland Times