The 2018 Auckland Ballance Farm Environment Award goes to …

Auckland Ballance Farm Environment Award Winners 2018 - the Dill Family
The Dill Family, winners of the 2018 Auckland Ballance Farm Environment Awards

The Dill family from Kaipara Flats has won the 2018 Auckland Ballance Farm Environment Awards. Family teamwork and a multi-generational attachment to the land have created a successful and sustainable farming business with many environmental highlights for the Dills at Kaipara Flats near Warkworth.

Father and son duo, Bruce and Steve Dill, are the farmers on the 488 hectare (ha) sheep and beef property. They are supported by Bruce’s wife Felicity, and Steve’s wife Clare, who has an increasing involvement alongside her communications and marketing consultancy work. Their win was announced at a dinner at the Holiday Inn Auckland Airport in Mangere on Wednesday night (April 4). The family will host a field day at their Dill Road property on Tuesday May 8 from 10.30am.

Three-quarters of the Dills Farms Ltd land is steep with the home farm set amid spectacular scenery looking west towards the Kaipara Harbour and includes 3.5km of the Hoteo River. The awards judges said this was both an asset and a liability with winter flooding, active erosion and sediment control, but also provided the setting for their enterprising eco-tourism venture renting a rustic farm hut combined with farm walks. Clare has launched a social media campaign with near-neighbour and friend Nicky Berger called Grass Fed in the City aiming to improve relationships between rural and urban populations.

Last year the farm wintered 1957 sheep, including 1320 Romney ewes, and 388 Hereford and Angus-cross cattle, including 138 cows. Two-year-old Hereford bulls are sold to local dairy farmers. Total stocking was 3750su or 9.35su/ha.

The original Atuanui farm at Kaipara Flats was purchased by Marcus Gordon Dill in 1889 and now fourth-generation Bruce and fifth-generation Steve are the directors of the much-enlarged Dills Farms Ltd.  A neighbouring 135ha block was bought after Steve returned from working overseas. Knowledge and understanding of the land, ecosystem, weather patterns and stock over the years is being passed on from previous generations.

Knowledge of soil types and capabilities is important for the sustainable management of this farm. Sedimentary loss to the Hoteo River is the main risk factor, managed by riparian retirement, three-wire electric fencing on flood-prone banks, and low intensity stocking policies in sensitive areas, especially over the winter months. Stock water reticulation is key, using a variety of dams, reservoirs and springs to pump to header tanks for delivery of water to troughs.

A Land and Environment Plan completed in 2008 has been progressively implemented providing a valuable input and overview of stock management, planting and fencing policies. More than 10,000 plants have been planted with 3,000 last winter as part of the Forest Bridge Trust programme in the Kaipara District. These plantings aim to reduce the sediment in the Hoteo River and enhance biodiversity. The Dills have started their own nursery to build up manuka seedlings as well as poplars for the farm.

Erosion is a problem on the steep slopes and Kawa poplars have been planted around the farm to mitigate soil slip and for tomo stabilisation.  Four small areas of native bush have been fenced off for some time (one since the 1940s) that contain mature native canopy species such as taraire, titoki, rimu and totara that are over 15 metres tall as well as a healthy understory. The farm drains to the Hoteo River and the fencing and riparian planting by the Dills and adjoining landowners has made a measurable improvement in water quality, including sedimentary and nutrient run-off.

As well as the 2018 Regional Supreme Award, Dill Farms Ltd won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award and CB Norwood Distributors Ltd Agri-Business Management Award.

A Kaukapakapa business combining a nursery, plant sales, coffee shop, sculpture garden and beef cattle farming – owned by David and Geraldine Bayly and Don and Margaret Bayly – won the Auckland BFEA People in Agriculture Award, Massey University Innovation Award and Predator Free Farm Award.

A visionary farm park and dairy support block at Te Hana, north of Wellsford, owned by Ray and Pam Hollis won the Auckland Council Water Quality Enhancement Award. Awhitu dairy farmers Andrew and Lisa Hamilton won the DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award and WaterForce Integrated Management Award.

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