From small beginnings, Strath Taieri farmers Andrew and Lynnore Templeton have developed a business model to be economically sound, allowing for successful succession.
That was one of the comments of the judges of this year's Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Mr and Mrs Templeton, who farm The Rocks Station, a 2952ha sheep and beef property near Middlemarch, with their daughter, Ellie, won the supreme award, along with awards for innovation, agribusiness management and livestock.
The Templetons hosted a field day on their property in November and facilitator Pete Young described it as a celebration of farming excellence.
With "farmer bashing" going on for what seemed like a few years, it was great to both acknowledge and celebrate such excellence, Young said.
Judging co-ordinator Paula Cross outlined some of the judges' comments, which included the impressive gains made in production in a short time to produce both high quality fine wool and lamb production; their embracing of new ideas and technology; and their deep desire to improve and develop their farming operation.
They continually sought opportunities to improve their farming systems and were willing to use professional advisers and network with businesses within the industry.
They were incredibly passionate about learning and taking on new ideas and had a strong environmental focus and a strong commitment to community and industry.
Mr Templeton grew up on a sheep and beef farm at Tarras and Mrs Templeton (nee Tisdall) came from a small farm at Middlemarch.
Both were Lincoln graduates, Mr Templeton with a commerce degree and certificate in wool and Mrs Templeton with a first class honours degree in agricultural science.
With a long-time passion for wool, Mr Templeton worked in the wool industry for the next 10 years before joining the ASB rural banking team in Otago.
Mrs Templeton had a background in animal husbandry and parasitology, having worked at Merial NZ Ltd (now Boehringer Ingelheim) for 16 years, first as Southland territory manager then as South Island business manager.
Mr Templeton always had a goal of farm ownership and farming fine wool sheep and in 2003 they bought their first 80ha block at Middlemarch, adding more land over the years.
Over 16 years, but particularly in the last seven, a significant amount of work had gone into improving their business, including 160ha of irrigation, 1000ha of reseeding and 40km of fencing, some of which had been introduced to exclude stock from the Taieri River and waterways leaving the property.
Their breeding policies, for both cattle and sheep, were based on crossbreeding to maximise hybrid vigour.
They had introduced specific genes — Inverdale and Myomax — into their sheep flock to offset challenging autumns and increase flock production.
Mrs Templeton said the feedback, direction and encouragement the couple had received from the award judges had been "gold" to their business.
While initially reluctant to enter, she said she "couldn't have been more wrong".
"Right from the get-go, it's been a positive experience."
It had been one of the best farming decisions they had made.
The farm was a "work in progress" and some things were a long way from where the Templetons wanted them to be, but they had a plan and they were working towards it.
Their vision was to produce world-class fibre and protein via an environmentally sustainable system, innovative thinking and "challenging the square".
Over the past couple of years, there had been an increased focus on being more environmentally sustainable.
The main reason for entering the awards was to help them with that — to bring in outside expertise to help ensure they were on the right track and to continue to develop their environmental plan.
They had three guiding principles: to work with the environment, not fight against it; their crossbreeding programme, making sure they were maximising for hybrid vigour; and feeding for production and maintenance.
Their first decade farming was about finding their feet; but in the past six, they had got an idea of how to farm it better, she said.
The Templetons were looking at ways to enhance biodiversity on their farm.
They were keeping some areas of natural landscape, looking at how best to protect ephemeral wetlands and ensure schist rock formations continued to be the home of skinks and geckos.
They were working with Southern Forest in planning a native planting programme in areas where trees and shrubs could establish.
They were also planning a series of seepage dams/wetlands which would be fenced and planted to allow water to naturally seep to lower country.
Most of their creeks did not run all year round and were summer dry; they wanted to slow down movement of water and keep it there as long as possible, Mrs Templeton said.
It was extremely difficult to get trees to grow in that hot, dry and windy environment, so the best way to get them established was around wetlands and they had applied to the One Billion Trees Fund. They had 12ha earmarked in their long-term plan for planting.
They had introduced more koura (native freshwater crayfish) into their dams as a water quality barometer and potential future income stream.
Ernslaw One aquaculture manager John Hollows said koura were a good indicator of waterways being "environmentally on the right side of the ledger" as they did not tolerate a lot of chemical use or sediment.
There was also a strong market for koura, which fetched between $65 and $100 a kg. Revenue could be gained from planting out a riparian area, he said.
In outlining the geological history of the area, Robin Thomas, from the QEII National Trust, said farming in such a landscape could be "pretty damn difficult".
Farming was challenging enough but the dry, arid environment, with low rainfall and shallow soils, added extra challenge, he said.