Friday, 24 January 2020 10:08

Gong for working with nature

Written by  Staff Reporters
Leeston dairy farmer John Legg. Leeston dairy farmer John Legg.

A Leeston dairy farmer’s adoption of regenerative agriculture has won him North Canterbury Fish & Game’s Working with Nature Award for 2019.

John Legg, 32, is the fourth generation of the Legg family running the Lakeside Ayrshires farm, close to the shores of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.

Back on the farm since 2012 after several years away, Legg has taken the view that agriculture is “a biological system not a chemical one,” and adopted regenerative principles especially since attending a seminar with soil scientist and consultant Nicole Masters about three years ago.

“Because of where we are in close proximity to Lake Ellesmere we had to change a lot of stuff due to our consents and Farm Environment Plans,” explains Legg.

The main driver was to become more efficient with water use.

“So we started looking to grow more drought-tolerant species like lucerne, red clover, chicory, plantain – stuff that didn’t need as much water as ryegrass and clover mix. It’s all to do with their root structures and root depths.”

“These species are the ones that hold us through the dry times, they’ve all got tap roots and they persist when it’s dry so we’ve still got something to feed our cows.”

He has also worked with Amy Duckworth from the soil consultancy company Soil Matters, which promotes the Albrecht-Kinsey system of soil fertility.

Legg describes is “a different model of fertilising,” based around balancing out calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium cat-ions to build a better soil structure and better soil biology which in turn boosts nutrient levels.

Only natural fertiliser is used, in the form of Poulfert, which is chicken litter sold as a byproduct of chicken farming. 

The system is giving better milk productivity, feed growth, improved fertility has improved and a reduction in animal health issues including mastitis.

“I wouldn’t be confident to sit here and say it’s all to do with our fertiliser but I do think it plays a big part in it,” says Legg.

The Fish & Game award also recognises Legg’s environmental work.

The farm is bordered by Harts Creek, which drains into the lake just 3km away and is where Legg first learned to fish for trout. He now chairs the Harts Creek and Birdling’s Brook Streamcare Group, which has been working for almost 20 years to repair and enhance the streams.

Restoration work has included removing willows, gorse and broom and replacing them with native species such as kahikatea, totara, flaxes, kōwhai, karamu, manuka, kanuka, ake ake, pittosporum and ribbonwood.

“We’re trying to get a real diverse mixture of stuff to enhance the whole ecosystem,” says Legg.

The farm, a prizewinning Ayrshire stud for 100 years, now milks 200 pedigree Ayrshires. Late gestation Angus is used to finish mating and the beef calves are raised to 18 months.

Now married to wife Holly and with children Isla, 4, and Blake, 2, Legg has been back on the farm since 2012 after several years pursuing a rugby career in Otago.

Playing halfback for the Otago provincial team, Legg was in the Highlanders squad for one season before coach Jamie Joseph brought in Aaron Smith “and it was all over,” quips Legg.

These days he is back playing, coaching and on the committee for the local Leeston club.

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