Big win for Omarama farmers

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Omarama high-country farmer Richard Subtil finds it ironic that in a year he’d rather forget, his farm scooped several honours at the 2015 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) on Thursday.

Mr Subtil and his wife Annabelle were named supreme winners at the awards, and also took home the Massey University Innovation Award, the WaterForce Integrated Management Award, Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award and the Environment Canterbury Water Quality Award.

The awards are run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, which aims to promote sustainable, profitable and environmentally friendly farming.

The Subtils manage the 12,000ha Omarama Station, which was previously farmed by Annabelle’s parents Dick and Beth Wardell.

The station, south of Omarama Village, winters 23,000 stock units including 7500 merino ewes, 310 Angus-Hereford cows, 10,000 lambs and 700 steers and heifers annually. Crops are also grown on the farm and high-quality wool produced.

Mr Subtil said he was thrilled the station has been recognised for its efforts.

“We enjoy the challenge of being put under the microscope by the judges and having to think about what we do and justify it to ourselves.”

He believes farmers need to be more willing to open themselves up to more extensive scrutiny.

“They should share what they do well,” he said.

“There’s a lot of adverse coverage of farming … we want to get some positive thoughts out there,” he said.

BFEA judges described the Subtils’ operation as a “proven farm business demonstrating excellence in financial, environmental and social stability”.

They said the station was run by an “exceptional team” and its production and financial performance were “industry-leading”; the couple have an excellent understanding of nutrient budgeting, they said.

Production had risen significantly since the installation of a centre-pivot irrigation system that covers 560ha. Water is used for irrigation and hydro-electric generation in a way that resulted in improved water quality.

Mr Subtil put the station’s success down to several factors.

“It’s a combination of things. We have got a long-term perspective and relationship with the people we supply and the people who supply us. Annabelle’s family have been here since 1919. The only other resource we have is the farm itself. If we want our family to be here in another 100 years, we have to look after it … we’re trying to keep things that are going to be sustainable.”

The past several months have been a real challenge for farmers, with drought conditions declared in North Otago, South Canterbury and Marlborough in recent times.

While the Subtils had plans in place to help combat the dry conditions, they still felt its affects.

“It’s been a pretty trying year, even with irrigation the rest of the farm has been under real pressure. We’re destocking cattle … we’ve got to have a plan when something like this happens so we don’t punish the animals or the country.

“It seems ironic to win in a year I would like to put behind me, but that’s life isn’t it?”

Other environmental work that has taken place at the station includes working with local iwi and the Department of Conservation to promote the regeneration of the native longfin eel population.

As part of the tenure review process for the station, a 120ha flood plain, incorporating the Omarama stream, has been designated a scientific reserve. A Ballance Farm Environment Awards field day will be held at the station later.

By Daniel Birchfield