Kaeo couple Jeff Martin and Helen Linssen have been named the 2020 regional supreme winners in the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust's Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
The awards champion sustainable farming and growing through a programme that sees one supreme winner from each of 11 regions undergo judging for a national award, the Gordon Stephenson Trophy.
The judges said it was a commitment to quality and waterway management that had established Jeff and Helen as industry leaders, while their beef farming approach was successful in terms of both liveweight gains and sustainability. The couple, they said, were "walking the talk," running a successful, modern farming business that was tailored well to Northland conditions, plus generously sharing their time and experience throughout the wider industry.
"We were inspired by their commitment to research, planning and implementation of a whole-farm system, carefully designed around financially and environmentally sustainable production," they said.
"Climate resilience and adaptation is built into the business, with an emphasis on water security, soil protection, land retirement, and planting suited to the land capability."
Te Karoa Farms is run across three properties totalling 484ha (307ha effective), the success of their management plan being reflected in the amount and quality of pasture. GPS mapping divides the properties into grazing cells, allowing stock to be moved regularly and have long winter rotations. The judges commended the creation of generous riparian buffers, along with biodiversity protection and enhancement.
"Jeff and Helen's commitment to their farming business, community, staff and wider industry are exemplary," they said.
Te Karoa Farms also won the Northland Regional Council water quality enhancement, Norwood Agri-Business management, Beef + Lamb New Zealand livestock farm, Bayleys' people in primary sector, Synlait climate stewardship and WaterForce Wise with Water awards.
Other category winners included Kerikeri's Marsden Estate, which won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients soil management and Hill Laboratories Agri-Science awards.
Jeff and Helen, who specialise in beef bull production, acquired their three independent blocks over the last 19 years, each having unique features and challenges. With steep hill sections looking over the Otangaroa Valley, and predominantly rolling pastures, the three blocks include a combined 80ha of native bush and 34ha in fenced-off rivers, wetlands, gullies and water courses.
The couple focused on the production of premium 100kgLW bulls, buying them in late spring and selling them the following summer as R2 bulls, achieving liveweight gains per hectare that were well above district averages.
Animal welfare was a constant focus, and they worked closely with their local vet regarding animal welfare strategies and field trials.
Carrying lighter animals meant less damage was done to pasture and soils by intensive winter pugging, and the success of their management plan was evident in the quality of pasture grown on hard clay loam soils in the hilly areas.
The couple's most recent project was the Fosters block, bought in 2016 with poor fencing and no water systems. They had since invested heavily, building a 5.5 million litre dam, installing 15km of water line with almost 80 troughs, building 20km of fencing and installing a solar-powered pump.
"Jeff and Helen showed exceptional foresight when it came to planning the block's water reticulation system," the judges said.
"GPS mapping was again used, and in the process, all the waterways, wetlands and non-productive areas identified as critical source areas for contaminant loss were retired.
"As well as being actively involved in industry initiatives and the wider community, Jeff and Helen are very generous with their time and knowledge, supporting staff member Mathew on the farm and mentoring a neighbouring couple through an extension programme."