Though it hasn’t been officially announced as yet, it seems that Hawke’s Bay deer farmers Tim Aitken and Lucy Robertshawe have taken out the Champion of Champions trophy in this year’s Marks and Spencer (M&S) Farming for the Future awards.
The Tikokino venison producers are said to have received a text from the gala dinner informing them and they are now awaiting the official confirmation of the “huge news”. They were earlier announced as the winners of the hard-fought International Producer section in September, which pitched them into a public vote for the supreme Champion of Champions award against winners of the England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland producer categories.
“Having been judged by the company and its customers as the most sustainable farm of five finalists, representing Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, is a huge endorsement of the farming systems and philosophies we have developed over the years” says a proud Tim Aitken.
Aitken and Robertshawe are members of the Firstlight Venison Producer Group, a select group of deer farmers who work together to supply a small number of global producers supplying high-end retail customers like M&S. The British retailer strongly values sustainable production of the products it stocks and requires all suppliers to meet a set of environmental sustainability, animal welfare and ethical criteria known as ‘Plan A’. The annual awards aim to promote best practice throughout the supply chain and recognise those farmers who are making improvements to the sustainability of their business.
Commenting on the international category award on the Firstlight Foods website, Steve McLean, M&S head of agriculture and fisheries sourcing said that there were more than 50 entries this year for the international category and the standard was really high. “Our international entries came from a diverse range of businesses including fruit, vegetable and meat producers, in countries as winde-ranging as Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Thailand and New Zealand.”
The M&S judges were particularly impressed with the Aitken/Robertshawe entry, McLean said: “For the work they have done on enhancing the natural environment and water quality on their farm, for their involvement in R&D to improve the New Zealand venison industry and for their approach to animal welfare. They were also impressed that Tim and Lucy were sharing their knowledge with the wider farming community and had no hesitation in presenting them with the International M&S Farming for the Future award.”
Federated Farmers president Bruce Willis says the couple are excellent examples of Kiwi farmers leading the way on sustainable farming.
“Having the technical aspects of their business being judged was one thing, but winning the champion of champions award shows these people and their business really won the hearts and minds of a discerning British public who supported them in the popular vote.”
Willis is urging all New Zealand farmers to follow their example, “lead the world in innovative animal welfare and environmental management and to enter awards to let the world see the great work we are doing.”
The couple have won numerous previous awards including the Silver Fern Farms Hawke’s Bay Farmers of the Year and a New Zealand Deer Farmers Association (NZDFA) award for environmental and sustainable management in 2010. Their property, ‘The Steyning’ in Central Hawke’s Bay, has featured in the Focus Farms programme and Aitken is a producer representative on the NZDFA board.
Many congratulations to them both!