Exceptional care for soil and use of innovative technology have won a Rangitikei cropping and fattening farm two Ballance Farm Environment awards.
Brendon and Rachel Williams treat the soils on their farm as a fertility bank, and are continually working to maintain and improve them.
Their Pencoed Farm won awards for soil management and the use of technology at the annual awards, which were presented online on April 22. The supreme winner was the Clarke family's Woodhaven Gardens, which grows commercial vegetables near Levin.
Another region winner was Chalky and Lesley Leary's sheep, beef and forestry farm at Onga, near Hunterville.
The Williams farm 116ha at Tutaenui, north of Marton, in one of Horizons Regional Council's priority catchments for minimising impact on the environment.
They had a Whole Farm Plan done in 2009, and were an early test farm in the council's Sustainable Land Use Initiative.
At that time they were grazing dairy cattle in winter. It paid well, but a lot of nitrogen was leaching through the farm's mainly heavy Class 1 and 2 soils.
The Overseer nutrient management software of the time measured their nitrogen leaching at 31kg per hectare, and they changed their stock and crop rotation to get it down. Latest results, using the same software, have them leaching 17kg of nitrogen per hectare.
They are likely to be among the first arable farmers in the Horizons region to be given resource consent - when the One Plan rules for intensive farming are agreed.
Getting to that 17kg has meant continual adaptation, Brendon Williams said, and using advice from Peter Taylor at The Catalyst Group, from South Island business Vantage NZ, formerly Agri Optics and from a Ballance Agri-Nutrients advisor.
He does extensive soil testing, electromagnetic soil mapping, and uses digital soil maps and GPS-controlled machinery. He recently moved to fortnightly satellite imagery of crops, to pick up areas with soil deficiencies.
Fertiliser is spread by truck, with extra nutrients precision-placed.
The cropping rotation starts with maize, grown for Turk's Poultry, then peas grown for seed, then winter wheat and then one or two years back in a rye grass and clover pasture.
The maize fields are sprayed with glyphosate and then planted with maize in 150mm strips. The strip planting conserves moisture and reduces sediment run-off. After the spray the clover in the pasture gradually recovers and forms a cover crop under the maize.
"Last year we were able to graze lambs on the clover over winter," Williams said.
The farm is about 60 per cent cropped and 40 per cent grazed - with that changing depending on circumstances. Most years 10 to 15 hectares is leased from his parents, next door.
In a typical year Pencoed fattens about 100 beef heifers and 2000 to 2500 lambs. The lambs are bought through an agent - most of them from the Taihape area.
The Williams entered the farm environment awards to measure their enterprise against others, and learn from the expert judges.
"Every farmer should probably have a go at it. For us it was never about the accolades."
Brendon is the third generation of Williams to farm the property. He did engineering after leaving school, then returned to the farm, buying his grandfather's property in 1999 and adding a 54ha former dairy farm in 2002.