Richard and Becks Tosswills’ innovative Wairarapa sheep and beef farm has been described described by awards judges as an “innovative and forward-thinking farm driven by a passion for change through social responsibility and commitment to further the future of New Zealand farming.”
The Tosswills were presented with the Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards on Wednesday night (April 11) at the Carterton Events Centre. They have been farming Te Awaawa, a 646 hectare 9ha) sheep and beef hill country property near Masterton for the past 10 years.
The Tosswills farm 3,000 Texel-cross ewes with 1,000 over-mated replacement ewe lambs. They have reviewed their sheep policies and added a trading component in the past few years to provide flexibility in their summer dry environment. They run 100 Angus breeding cows and 20 to 25 replacements are mated and calved as two-year-olds.
The judges said Richard was a strong believer in stock health and has an advanced health plan used alongside technology to track and gather stock information. They said he has a real passion for the farm and environment.
“He loves his hills and knows how to get the best out of them.”
The Tosswills have invested, via cashflow, into improved infrastructure on the property. It already had great laneways and tracks, but they have built new covered yards and satellite yards, Richard explains.
“We wanted to make things more efficient and also knew the covered yards would keep both us and stock out of the sun in summer and rain and mud in the winter. We also installed a sprinkler system in the yards to keep the dust down to help prevent pleurisy in our lambs. That alone can drop the temperature five or six degrees on a really hot summer’s day. He says an added benefit is security at shearing time and they’ve also added a three-way drafting system.
Richard and Becks retired 12.5ha of highly-erodible country in 2012 and planted pines, acacias, lusitanica, redwood and eucalyptus through the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s afforestation scheme. A sediment dam has been developed to help reduce the amount of sediment entering the waterways and any run off from the cattle yards further up the valley.
They have retired two small blocks of limestone spring wetland areas into QEII National Trust covenants, which are the source of their stock water, with a third smaller one in the process of being fenced. More than 2,000 poplar and willow poles have been planted for erosion control, shade and fodder in drought.
“We haven’t had to cut for stock this summer but we did a couple of seasons ago. The stock love it. They are all pruned back to single leaders to make them easier to manage and reduce limbs splitting in the future.”
The couple regularly set and revisit production and financial KPIs. They’ve had a semi-formal advisory board for about four years to provide accountability and big picture planning. Part of their philosophy is to balance the farm income stream with off-farm income.
A graphic designer by trade, Becks has a team of design contractors working for her Farmer’s Daughter Design Studio, started in 2009, which has strong link to the rural sector. As well as a wide range of pro-bono work, she is a member of the Gladstone School fundraising committee and recently completed the Agri-Women’s Development Trust foundation course called All About You.
Richard chairs the Wairarapa Farming for Profit committee, chaired the Ponatahi discussion group for the past four years and has recently taken on a Wairarapa Innovation Farm trial around establishing clover on uncultivatable East Coast hill country.
They both believe in work life balance with plenty of time for their children – Isabella 9, Sam 7, and Sophia, 4, and have welcomed overseas Woofers into their home for the past three years.
Becks says another aspect to their farming life is unwavering support for the likes of Rural Support Trust and Farmstrong. “We really support the work these sorts of organisations do. And if anyone needs a hand, we’re prepared to put our hands up. This is a challenging time.”
As well as winning the regional supreme award, the Tosswills won the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award.
Featherston dairy farm, 652ha Kaiwaiwai Diaries Ltd, won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, CB Norwood Distributors Ltd Agri-Business Management Award, Dairy NZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, Massey University Innovation Award and the Waterforce Integrated Management Award. Martinborough vineyard and winery, Dry River Wines, managed by chief wine maker Wilco Lam, won the Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award. The Akura Conservation Centre Lifestyle Farm Award went to Hayden McGrail and Lyn Tankersley, who have owned Forest Home in Kiriwhakapapa Road, Mount Bruce, since 1982. The Predator Free Farm Award went to a lifestyle block entry from Ted and Eileen Ward, Greytown.