Mike and Tracey Collis may run a dairy farm with big ambitions, but they have managed to achieve a small environmental footprint.

To boot, they farm in Eketahuna - a renowned challenging farming area. Their tenacity and their talents caught the eyes of this year's Horizons Ballance Farm Environment award judges who credited the couple's willingness to adapt their farming system to outside influences.

"We are really pleased about being a finalist," the Collis' say of their achievement.

"It's good to benchmark ourselves and receive the judges' feedback on what we could do better and the opportunities. Our advice to those thinking about entering would be 'just have a go'. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain."

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The couple told the Dannevirke News they were inspired to enter by attending the regional and national awards.

"We were confident that we were in a good environmental place and maybe we should put ourselves out there and walk the walk," Mike said.

However, Tracey admitted she was a little shocked when Mike said he had entered.

"He said he would handle it as he knew how busy I was," Tracey, the Tararua District Mayor, said. "Luckily we have great teams around us and the Tararua District councillors stepped right in to enable me to be there during the judging with Mike."

The Collis' said they are looking forward to the judges' feedback and any further opportunities they identify to improve their environmental footprint.

"We are looking for all the small incremental differences that can contribute to improving our footprint," Mike said. "The little things add up when put together.

"On sharing the wetlands we have developed since owning the property it was hard to contain our own excitement when the frogs started croaking and it was the first time we had heard this ourselves.

"Frogs are a great sign of a healthy environment. It is the same excitement we experience when we seen koura in the waterways. To see the growth in the natural environment from the hard work fencing and planting them ourselves to what they are today, is reward enough and it is the first time we have shared them with others - it was a great feeling actually."

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The couple spoke to the judges about the social licence to farm being important going forward.

"To have a environmentally sustainable business for us is as important as equity. We consciously think about every decision we make to the environment, to our footprint and to our profit. For us it is all about balance," they said.

Tracey said they are thrilled to be joined by the Hales and having two farms in the finals is outstanding for the Tararua District.

"I am confident there are many more great farmers out there with a good stories to share who could make the cut by entering the awards, sometimes like us you just get busy and watch from the sidelines," she said.

The Collises purchased their property in 2007 and built up the enterprise. Initially buying a 93ha milking platform before leasing an 80ha runoff 7km away, they have since purchased the latter as well as a neighbouring runoff to give them a total of 252ha.

They have a joint ambition to be role models and leaders through their farm practice.

By striving to create a farming environment that is healthy, they are providing an opportunity for their business to thrive as well as giving the surrounding community confidence their vision is sustainable.

Running a Kiwi cross herd, with a mating policy to keep cow size down by mating larger cows to a Jersey sire, a key advantage of this approach is that once-a-day milking can be introduced when they move in this direction - a key ambition for the duo, which is readily becoming a reality thanks to their discipline.

The Collises key focus is paying off debt to increase equity and they operate a low-input system and keep their farming working expenses to $2.50/KgMS which they achieve without compromising production.

Consented to farm under the Horizons Regional Council One Plan, they have processes in place to mitigate nitrogen leaching.

They are aware of the different characteristics of soils on their property - Kopua Silt Loam and Dannevirke Silt Loam.

The soils are free-draining with a stoney base but the use of a feed pad is required to protect them in wet periods. Cultivation practices are minimised by only disking and power harrowing to reduce soil damage and weed infestation.

A reflection of their significant - and diverse - potential, they have planted 7ha of manuka with the aim of producing manuka honey as an alternative source of income.

The Collises and Hales are two of five finalists in the Horizons Regional Ballance Farm Environment Awards, with the regional finals announced on Thursday, March 14. The National Sustainability Showcase 2019 (showcasing the 2019 regional supreme winners) will be held on Thursday, June 6 in Hamilton.

Quick farm facts: Mike and Tracey Collis:
Type: Dairy.
District: Eketahuna, Tararua District.
Total area: 252ha (including runoff).
Topography: Flat to rolling, some steep