Not for sale

Award-winning organic & legacy farmers nurture the environment as well as cows

For Stephen and Annabel Crawford, production is not the most important part of their dairy farm business.

"We have two main drivers – firstly, low environmental footprint and secondly, we operate on a low-cost/high-profit basis. We strive for that through value-added products such as our organic/A2 and organic milks."

The couple run an extensive, organically certified milking operation at Clydevale near Balclutha in South Otago. Their properties total 730ha and border two major waterways, the Clutha and Pomahaka rivers.

Their reputation as "thought leaders" in farming practices has been recognised with the DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, Otago Regional Council Quality Water Management Award and at the Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

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Their premium and organic focus incorporates an emphasis on the environment, he says.

Stephen is the third-generation Crawford to farm the property his grandad owned: "Now we have four properties amalgamated, so we've got two dairy farms and two support blocks - and it's all in one joining block."

The Crawfords milk about 880 dairy cows. The property is fully self-contained: "We rear all our own calves, all our own bulls, and they're on-farm all year around. We grow our own silage - there's no bought-in feed at all."

Naturally, no chemicals are spread on the ground and every care is taken to safeguard the two important rivers: "All the waterways were fenced off a long time ago. Three years ago we put in about 35ha of Douglas firs along the edge of the Pomahaka River so it acts as a buffer between the edge of the support block and the river."

Planting and retiring the river boundary areas from stock grazing assists soil conservation and water quality - and the trees are primarily planted for environmental reasons.

"They're a long-term tree. You know you're not going to be harvesting them for 60-70 years. They'll have to be harvested eventually but it's an environmental thing, not for timber."

The Crawfords belong to the Pomahaka Water Care Group: "We've done water testing for quite a few years. We test at the top and at the bottom of the property and we know that we're improving water quality as it goes through the farm."

There's a bonus for Stephen, family and friends. "We've put in a few sediment ponds cunningly disguised as duck ponds. It's a sporting thing as well."

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Dairy farming in the Deep South brings a unique challenge: winter. The Crawfords underscore their organic approach here, too.

"We've got three wintering sheds and all of our milking cows go into the sheds at the beginning of winter – the end of May, beginning of June - and they stay in there. All their waste is captured.

"Then, at a safe time in the year, we get muck-spreaders in and all the manure goes onto the paddocks. Because we're organic, we can't use urea on the farm, or any artificial nitrogen, so the manure from the sheds is pretty important to us.

There are two modern cowsheds – one 60-bail and one 54-bail rotary – "so we have pretty quick milking times. We put a lot of effort into trying to minimise energy use and water use in the cowsheds".

One shed is dedicated to organic/A2 milk and the other to organic milk. "We're trying to get the other cowshed to A2 as quickly as possible. We've been using A2 semen for about seven years, so quite a high percentage of the herd are A2."

Stephen acknowledges the partnership with Open Country Dairy in the couple's journey into organic farming and on to A2 production. But there is another inspiration – one close to home.

The Crawfords' farms are very much intended to be a legacy business. Protecting and preserving it for the fourth generation is important.

"That's what we're hoping for and one of the reasons that we went down the organic path - we have to try and make the business appealing for the younger generation. So that's something we put a lot of effort into.

"We've got three children - Tom, Jess, and Henry. They're still quite young. Tom's in Year 12 and is s doing an agri-business course. Jess is in Year 9 and Henry is Year 7.

"We don't want to push them into anything, but it would be nice if they did."