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Agriculture

Farming sustainably, a stone’s throw from Auckland

Kim Stewart Nov 11
Farming sustainably, a stone’s throw from Auckland
Ross and Eleanor Webber took out regional supreme winner of the 2019 Auckland Ballance Farm Environment Awards for their work planting and protecting bush and wetland areas at South Head, on the Kaipara Harbour.

Overlooking Kaipara Harbour, South Head boasts many hectares of lush native bush and wetlands.

It’s hard to believe that Auckland City is only 50 minutes down the road and that these extensive bush blocks are part of a 195 hectare profitable beef farm operation.

It has taken nearly 30 years for the Webber family to get this land how they want it, farming sustainably while taking care of waterways, native birds and trees in this very special part of New Zealand.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, with Ross and Eleanore Webber having received a number of prestigious awards this year.

In March, they were named regional supreme winner of the 2019 Auckland Ballance Farm Environment Awards and were also presented with the Predator Free NZ Trust Predator Free Farm Award, the Water Force Integrated Management Award and the Auckland BFEA Farm Stewardship Award.

“It has been a wonderful experience for us and great for New Zealand to know what we have achieved here,” Ross says.

It is indeed inspiring to find a small-scale farm operation like this, so close to Auckland, that is both financially viable and ticking the boxes for environmental sustainability.

In the 1970s, farmers in the area were incentivised to boost stock numbers and a lot of native bush was lost as a result.

Since taking over owner-ship of the family farm in 1983, Ross and Eleanore have sought to reverse that damage as much as possible.

“Ross started planting trees and began progressively fencing off all the waterways as the farm has three catchments that go into Kaipara Harbour,” explains Eleanore.

As Ross observes, the Kaipara Harbour is a pivotal snapper fishery.

The job of taking care of it doesn’t just start at the harbour’s edge – “it starts at the head of the valley.”

Farming sustainably, a stone’s throw from Auckland

These extensive bush blocks are part of a 195 hectare profitable beef farm operation.

 

Looking back, the couple are grateful for an opportunity that came up through the then Rodney District Council to develop and sell a small number of lifestyle blocks on some marginal farmland.

In turn, that enabled them to purchase some neighbour’s land and fast track their fencing plans to protect bush and wetland areas.

Income earned through off-farm jobs has also helped pay for fencing.

“For us, it’s all about boundary definition,” says Ross. “If you look at a block of land that’s not worth putting fertiliser on, we’d rather see it go back into native bush.”

In total, their farm now has 35 hectares covenanted under the QEII National Trust.

Deer fencing keeps predators, including fallow deer, out of these flourishing bush blocks.

Trapping is another key focus to control pests such as possums.

“The amount of bird life we have got through fencing off alone is amazing,” says Eleanore.

The couple have used locally sourced native plants to enhance the bush blocks.

They are now excited to witness a growing biodiversity, as wood pigeons proliferate and spread more seed.

On the farmland itself, the couple are running Angus beef and are now into their third year of putting their own heifers into the herd, numbering around 140 cows.

Their bulls originally came from Te Mania Angus stud, south of Kaikoura, though lately they have sourced bulls from Waitangi Angus in Northland.

“The results are showing this year and things are looking good,” says Eleanore.Their son Matthew works closely with them on the farm, while their other two sons have pursued trades careers.

As a family, they all share a love for South Head’s beautiful environment and a commitment to achieving a sustainable future for the land and the family.

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