The Covid-19 lockdown has prompted organisers of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards to take an innovative approach when recognising this year's top farmers.

The awards ceremony schedule was interrupted by the country going into lockdown on March 23, after the announcement of only two regions' winners, Canterbury and East Coast.

"We were determined to keep up the recognition of our other nine regional winners, even if it meant we had to do away with the ceremony and occasion that accompanies it. So we will kick off on April 22 with our first "on line" ceremony, for the Horizons region," said James Ryan, general manager the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust.

The occasions will be marked every Wednesday at 7.30 pm with regional award announcements on YouTube running for about 40 minutes.

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It will be possible for anyone interested to "attend" the virtual event by joining via the awards' Facebook page.

"Of course, we would all prefer to celebrate these special events with the usual social occasion. But this is the next best option and we believe it's really important now more than ever to showcase our food-producing farmers" said Ryan.

Four weeks of lockdown had highlighted the critical role New Zealand farmers play, not only in feeding New Zealand, but in generating valuable export income that many countries have lost over the crisis, said Ryan.

"This income is going to be even more critical than ever and there is a real appreciation there among New Zealanders about farmers' value. We believe for this reason we may find there is even greater interest in the awards this year, from a wider urban audience."

Once again, the awards have been characterised by a high calibre of entrants who have committed their farm businesses to set new standards and prove that exceptional environmental management can be compatible with commercial success.

This year's Canterbury winners announced on March 11 were Tony Coltman and Dana Carver of Canlac Holdings, a dairy operation that had made substantial steps to reduce its nitrogen footprint by 50 per cent.

The East Coast regional winners announced in early March were Evan and Linda Potter, who also won the regional "People Award" which was sponsored by Bayleys.

It was a privilege to recognise the invaluable role farm staff play in award winners' success said Bayleys national director rural, Duncan Ross.

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"Many farmers have been working hard, keeping their heads down and dealing with the raft of regulations coming their way. With Covid-19 they have good reason to hold their heads high knowing they and their staff will be contributing hugely to New Zealand's recovery, now and for many years to come."

As many New Zealanders face uncertain employment prospects, the opportunity to reward those award entrants who had displayed excellence in staff management would do much to draw new people to the sector said Ross.

Evan and Linda Potter, winners of East Coast Region, 2020 Farm Environment Awards. Photo / Supplied
Evan and Linda Potter, winners of East Coast Region, 2020 Farm Environment Awards. Photo / Supplied

"These winners highlight the real benefits and rewards that go with being part of a team motivated by operators who are passionate about looking after the land, and having a great farm business."

Each of this year's regional supreme winners from the 11 regions will also be in the running for the ultimate awards trophy, the Gordon Stephenson Trophy.

Ryan said this year's supreme award will still be announced, but the exact date has yet to be determined.

"Because it is a very prestigious event, we do still want to hold it at a venue, but at this point in time, a date has still to be set. Nevertheless, we know there will be an intense level of interest in what is a highly-coveted award within the New Zealand farming scene."

The award organisers are also hoping to be able to catch up with past award winners, to see how they have progressed on their sustainability journey over the years, and how they have coped during the Covid-19 crisis.

"For the first time in a very long time food security has become a big issue, and these awards help highlight how important our farmers are, and how much they care about the land they rely upon," said Ryan.

How to keep up with the Ballance Farm Environment Awards
New Zealand Farm Environment Trust's YouTube channel.
New Zealand Farm Environment Trust's website.
New Zealand Farm Environment Trust's Facebook page.