I had the pleasure recently of attending a Love Your Land Field Day on the farm of Justin and Mary Vennell. The event was outstanding thanks to the efforts of those involved, including DairyNZ, Beef & Lamb New Zealand, ANZCO Foods, ANZ, and Horizons Regional Council.

The bulk of the organizing was done by Horizons and a group of farmers calling themselves ACRE: Agricultural Communities Respecting the Environment. Both did a fantastic job of highlighting challenges and solutions to farming in our region.

Dave Harrison, of Horizons, talked to the large crowd of attendees about the Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI), created in response to the 2004 floods. The programme's objectives are to: reduce erosion; improve water quality; build resilience in the rural sector; and protect lowland communities from erosion happening upstream.

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Everyone in our region benefits from SLUI because, as the saying goes, "We all live downstream."

Harrison explained that SLUI funding comes from ratepayers, central government, and farmers themselves in a shared approach so that all of the burden is not placed on farmers. This is an effective approach because sometimes landowners need incentives and support to carry out significant work. Support and advice from Horizons certainly helped us make big decisions following the 2015 floods.

Although our farm is small, we've worked closely with Horizons over the past four years to reduce erosion and improve water quality and biological diversity. The advice and support has been invaluable to us while planting more than 2000 natives and fencing off Purua Stream. We've had five school groups come to do planting days funded by Horizons as well as planting 125 poplar poles ourselves on steeper slopes.

"The science says that poplars will reduce soil erosion by 65 per cent to 80 per cent," Harrison told us.

"Manuka in a riparian planting can improve water quality over 75 per cent."

Progress on Nelson Lebo's farm is plain to see. Photos / Supplied
Progress on Nelson Lebo's farm is plain to see. Photos / Supplied

As our poplars grow taller year by year, their roots extend further across the hillside. Along Purua Stream, where we've planted 1800 native grasses, flaxes, shrubs and trees, we've found two species of endangered fish.

Among the sprawling native plantings children now roam and explore as part of the Nature Play programme organised by my wife Dani and her friends. Learning here is child-led and inspired by inquiry into the natural world.

It's been amazing to see the increasing levels of interest in this type of education for young children, and it's been equally amazing seeing the native plantings thrive: young bodies and minds growing alongside young plants. Our good friend Chris Cresswell shared this vision with us two and a half years ago when he joined us to plant the first 500 trees.


It's rewarding to see all the good things happening on the banks of Purua Stream. There's no way we could be this far advanced in our farm plan without the support from Horizons and the ratepayers. Thank you!

To quote Harrison again: "If you want to love your land you need to keep the soil on it."

We've posted more before/after pictures if you want to see the changes in two and a half years: ecothriftylife.com

*Nelson Lebo loves his family and his land.