Northland farmers Geoff and Jo Crawford are proving farmers can work with the environment in a sustainable way.
They have won the supreme award for the Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards and will now compete for the New Zealand title. Run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, the awards champion sustainable farming and growing, with the Northland awards announced on June 22.
The large-scale operation of Crawford Farms, based near Whangarei, encompasses three dairy farms and a 300ha beef unit.
Geoff said he entered the awards because he wanted to prove a point.
"I was sick of people talking about dirty dairying when everyone I know in farming is doing their bit for the environment.
"We are held to very high standards and farmers are heavily penalised if we don't do the right thing. The Northland Regional Council will shut you down and Fonterra won't pick up your milk.
"I wanted to stand up and show the public that dairying is a good industry,'' he said.
Crawford, 54, said being a farmer is exciting and he is "living the dream".
"I lie awake at 4am waiting to get up. I can't wait to get out there,'' he said.
Jo works part-time as a nurse as well as helping with the administration side of the farm business.
"She has a big role to keep the business running smoothly,'' he said.
Geoff said the award was a nice acknowledgment of the hard work they had put in over the years.
"Jo and I have always strived to be the best at whatever we do.''
The home farm is on 60ha at Crane Rd in Kauri, with a 400ha dairy farm in Jordan Valley, near Hikurangi, 240ha dairy farm at Byles Rd, Opuawhanga, as well as a 300ha beef farm at Whananaki. Another 60ha support block in Jordan Valley Rd and 30ha of Maori land is leased in Church Rd, Ngararatunua, as a support unit.
"We farm all Northland soil types, from beautiful dead flat land on the Hikurangi Swamp that floods to rolling and steep hill country on the other farms. It's exciting to farm and it's why I get up early,'' he said.
Dairy is the main pillar of the business, with the remaining 25 per cent of income derived from beef. The contract milking team milks a total of 1400 Friesian cows in the three cowsheds, averaging 530,000kg of milk solids annually. Each year, the 1000 beef calves reared on the farm are sold as trade cattle and 200 heifer replacements are kept.
"We have about 30 bulls running around and use LIC semen as much as we can to help them out. We use good-quality Angus and Hereford bulls but have also been trialling Belgian Blue and Speckled Park bulls to try and get premiums for meat quality. We keep beef calves for the beef farm so it's a closed, self-sustaining unit,'' Crawford said.
Judges noted the farming enterprise has a strong focus on good genetics and pasture management, growing a diverse range of forages, along with the active management of weeds and insect pests.
"A holistic approach to environmental sustainability considers the entire farm system and the connections between each component," the judges said.
"Wetlands are in excellent condition, while a historic Māori pa is protected with a QEII
National Trust covenant.
"The Crawfords employ an innovative soil moisture monitoring programme and have a strong commitment to pest and predator control."
The judges said the farm's well-fed cows and good-quality beef are a testament to good genetics and pasture management. Environmental sustainability is a cornerstone of the business, based on an approach that considers connections across the entire farm system.
"Geoff and Jo have a true team approach to running this multi-faceted business. While they believe in the importance of always having goals to strive for, they are driven to focus on experience, not purely profit," said the judges.
"It's a spectacular example of running a profitable, corporate-sized operation while being environmentally conscious."
Geoff said good people management was the key to a good business.
"We have employed about 1000 people over the years in our previous vegetation control and large forestry operations in Northland. We have learnt that it is important to show leadership and to be fair with everyone. We are proud that people come in as workers and leave as friends,'' he said.
As well as the Supreme award, the Crawfords won the following awards: Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award; DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award; Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award; and the WaterForce Wise with Water Award.
A field day will be held at Crawford Farms on Thursday, September 8.