OPINION: People need to get their knives out of farmers’ backs and look at the science.
Ken says they entered the awards to benchmark themselves against other farmers and "to see where we were at" in terms of environmental sustainability.
He and Janine, a vet at Ruawai, first entered the Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2010 and were thrilled to win two category awards.
"I guess it showed we were on the right track," says Ken, who runs an intensive bull finishing operation on 400ha at Paparoa, southeast of Dargaville.
He says the judging process motivated him to set a number of achievable goals over the next five years.
He has continued with an extensive waterway and bush fencing programme. Almost 60% of the riparian fencing is now complete and Ken plans to finish the rest over the next three years.
"We've had fairly low profitability in the sheep and beef sector, so you can't expect to do everything in year one. We've got to be realistic."
Last year the Hames entered the Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards again. This time they won three category awards, including the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Nutrient Management Award. This award recognises farmers who are strategically using nutrients to improve productivity "while demonstrating excellent care for the environment around them".
Judges commended Ken's knowledge of nutrient cycles and his use of "best fertiliser application practice". This included the preparation of a nutrient management plan, which is carefully followed.
"Fertiliser applications are aimed to maintain soil fertility levels within the optimum ranges," said judges.
"Strategic nitrogen is applied as needed, and all fertiliser use is recorded."
Ken says fertiliser is one of the farm's biggest expenses, "so it's important to use it wisely".
As well as the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Nutrient Management Award, Ken and Janine also collected the Beef+Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award and the WaterForce Integrated Management Award.
With entries for the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards opening on August 1, Ken says he would certainly encourage other farmers to enter, even if they feel their farm is not ready.
"You are never going to have the perfect farm. It's always going to be a work in progress.
"Entering the awards is very worthwhile. The feedback from the judges is fantastic and it's a great experience meeting the other contestants and learning from them as well."
Ken says the 'journey' towards environmental sustainability is of huge importance to New Zealand agriculture.
"Farmers need to be aware that environmental issues associated with farming are here to stay. We have to position ourselves for the future and make sure everything we do is sustainable in the long-term."
Entering the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards is easy. Information and entry forms are available on-line at www.bfea.org.nz