At the regional Balance Farm Environment Awards in Auckland on Wednesday night, Silver Ridge Farm won Auckland Council’s Water Quality Enhancement Award.
The award focuses on the management of soil and nutrients and the understanding of the impact they have on soil fertility and on surface and groundwater.
The rolling 160-hectare dairy farm just outside Wellsford won Cameron and Jo Shepherd praise from the judges for their 'little and often' approach to fertilizer application in order to reduce nutrient losses.
The judges were equally impressed with their distribution of effluent and mitigation option for extreme weather, using covered feed pads.
Cameron, who hails from a sheep farming background, says sustainability “is all about soils.”
The Shepherds operate a carefully planned high-input, closed farm system designed around the farm’s unique and somewhat challenging pipe clay soils. Their system optimises the use of all the water that falls on their land, which is even more significant because it is the only source of water on the property.
Two substantial, covered feed pads precede their cowshed, which the team can flood-wash using green water. All effluent from the shed and feed pads is then channelled through a very substantial weeping wall. This drains slowly through to a higher and then lower pond system, which can finally be diluted by rainwater stored in a separate pond before being used to irrigate over 35ha.
There is no feeding out in the paddocks at all, as the Shepherds’ feed pad provides a great facility the cows can access before milking. The result of the Shepherds lateral thinking has improved levels of production and a better work/life balance for the couple and their children. Family is everything to the Shepherds, and a structured family partnership has given rise to a comprehensive farm succession plan implemented by Cameron’s father, Paul, and his late mother, Ruth.
Of entering the awards Cameron says, “It is good to challenge ourselves and have a yardstick of where we sit environmentally in relation to other farms. You may be doing things on your own farm you think are right, but you don’t always get a lot of people off-farm offering insight because it’s a bit of an independent sport.”
The regional Supreme winner of the Balance Farm Environment Awards went to the Ross and Eleanore Webber who farm on the Kaipara Harbour.
Listen here to Johnny Hildreth about his journey to protect the waterway on his Helensville farm: