When Logan Wallace returned home to take over the family sheep farm in South Otago, he had a big task to take on.

He set some goals, including making sure he farmed sustainably, meeting both the environmental requirements of councils and expectations of consumers.

The young farmer's determination and ability has already paid off. He and his parents, Ross and Alexa, were this year's Otago Ballance Farm Environment Award winners and he will also represent Otago-Southland in the grand final of the FMG Young Farmer of the Year contest in Invercargill in July.

During a field day on their Beacon Hill Rd property, near Waipahi, neighbour and friend James Watt described it as a "shining example'' of what pastoral farming could be.

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But it has not always been easy, as Ross Wallace bravely opened up about his battle with depression and the impact on the family and farming operation.

Mr and Mrs Wallace started farming the original part of Beacon Hill in 1988, added to it several times over the years and set up a family trust in the 1990s.

It was during the very wet winter of 1995 that he had his first episode of depression, a health issue the family had to work through over the years.

Following a later bad bout of Brandenburg abortion in their ewes, his depression became severe. He would go out on to the farm and achieve very little, shut himself off from family and friends, and always have excuses not to go anywhere.

"Being in a dark place, the black dog sniffing at your heels, life was a bitch,'' Mr Wallace said succinctly.

At that time, Logan was studying at agricultural institution Telford and daughter Emily was at secondary school.

The decision was made to lease the farm from 2009 to 2013, until Logan returned after study and travelling.

DOC ranger Ciaran Campbell speaks at the Otago Ballance Farm Awards field day near Waipahi accompanied by (from left) farmer Logan Wallace, James White, and Craig Simpson.
DOC ranger Ciaran Campbell speaks at the Otago Ballance Farm Awards field day near Waipahi accompanied by (from left) farmer Logan Wallace, James White, and Craig Simpson.

Mr Wallace said his wife and children had stood by him and counselling and medication had helped him through.

While he had not been one to share it before, he had a message for others - ``should you find yourself in this dark place with the black dog invading your life, talk to someone before he turns feral and starts ... circling you.''

The Wallace family's 290ha property is an intensive sheep breeding/finishing farm with 240ha of cultivated pasture and 30ha of tussock carrying 2300 Romney Texel ewes, 670 breeding hoggets and 400 grazing stock units.

Beacon Hill Farming Ltd was set up with equal shareholding between Logan and his parents. The company bought the stock and plant and leased the farm from the family trust that owned the land, paving the way for farm succession.

Logan (28) was now in the process of buying his parents' shares and they had a long-term goal of retiring to their house at Bannockburn.

Judges noted the impressive production gains made over a short time, the close family unit that supported one another to achieve their goals, incredible enthusiasm and a passion to learn, a strong environmental focus and an outstanding commitment to community and industry.

Logan coming home to farm had always been a long-term goal and he had been doing a great job, Mrs Wallace said.

Emily was a pharmacist and their succession plan was working and it was "really amazing'' to see that happen, she said.

Alan Macdonald, from accounting firm Macdonald Perniskie, said New Zealand farming was dominated by the family farm and that structure of farming business meant succession had always been a major issue in the life-cycle of any farming operation and often difficult to achieve.

Various factors today, that were different from the past, made succession planning challenging. People were living longer and, as they aged, were often fitter and more involved in the business than the previous generation.

Communication was key and succession needed to be looked at as an ongoing process, not a transaction that happened at a particular time, Mr Macdonald said.

Different family members could not be treated the same, but they could be given an opportunity to advance in their chosen careers and achieve in their chosen businesses.

The structure in place with the Wallace family would help them achieve that goal, he said.

Ross Wallace said his father was one of the early ones to plant trees for shelter and aesthetic values so it was ``no surprise'' that they would follow.

Most years, since they moved there they had planted shelter and/or amenity trees, and areas were fenced before to planting.

He had always been passionate about birds and native wildlife and kingfishers, tui and kereru could be spotted on the farm, along with skinks in the tussock areas.

Otago Regional Council liaison specialist James White said there were some real issues in South Otago, particularly the Pomahaka and smaller catchments, with phosphorus, nitrogen, E. coli and sediment.

Logan had picked up on issues with phosphorus, E. coli and sediment and had already done a lot of the small stuff, or "low-hanging fruit'', excluding stock from waterways and under taking good management practices with stock grazing.

He commended Logan for that, saying if everybody was "ticking off the easy stuff'' then water quality would be improved.

Logan said the low-hanging fruit was their winter grazing, and initiatives including reducing the chance of run-off. That included the likes of a straw bale bund at the bottom of a swede paddock.

Logan was an executive member of the Pomahaka Water Care Group and that partnership had been really important, he said.

He was testing two sites on the farm and he was starting to get some trends and was now working out where he had to concentrate his efforts and what he had to look out for. As well as Pomahaka galaxias, there were also freshwater crayfish on the property.

Craig Simpson, from the New Zealand Landcare Trust, said the majority of trends were in the right direction in the Pomahaka catchment, apart from phosphorus.

Logan had so many good experiences while on work experience that he wanted to give back to Telford. Over the last four years, he had 25 students spend time on the property as a learning opportunity.