An intergenerational merino sheep farm in the Mackenzie Country is leading the way in helping shape development of new generation farm plans, aimed at lifting the environmental performance of New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector.Balmoral Station, a 9700ha farm to the west of Lake Tekapo, has been owned by the Simpson family since 1975.
Originally farmed by Andrew and Karen Simpson, it is now being run by the family advisory board with their son Sam as the farm manager who, like his parents, is focussed on farming for both growth and sustainability.
In 2005, the tenure review process prompted Andrew and Karen to take a close look at their land and natural resources via a QEII survey. It led to them fencing off 180ha of red tussock land and dividing that into study plots that could be compared with an adjacent area farmed with merino sheep.
This benchmark area has enabled environmental changes to be monitored and compared closely over time.Now the concept is being rolled out across the whole farm, with 30 different plots being used to gather information on vegetation, water quality and other environmental markers.
“Every two years, photo points will be taken to provide an ongoing record to evaluate changes over time,” says Sam. “We’re hoping to prove that our farming practices are not having detrimental environmental effects on things like native vegetation and water quality.”
The next step is to tie this investment in monitoring to farm management with Balmoral Station now close to finalising a large-scale property manag-ment plan, in conjunction with Professor David Norton from the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry.
“If we can get it right, it could provide a template for other high country farmers looking at how to best manage their resources and farm environment.” This approach to planning aligns with Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Environment Strategy.
One of its key goals is for every sheep and beef farm to have a tailored environment plan by the end of 2021. Another is for the sector to move towards carbon neutrality by 2050. At Balmoral Station, where 20,000 to 30,000 new trees are planted every year, this has already been achieved.
“In fact, we’re miles ahead of it – we’re carbon positive!”Balmoral Station is currently running some 3500 ewes (finishing), 1400 wether lambs and a similar number of ewe lambs, along with 170 cattle and their progeny.
The station’s merino stud has around 400 ewes. Most of the station’s fine merino wool clip goes to high-end Norwegian merino clothing company Devold.Recent investments in irrigation have been a game changer for the farm. Two pivot irrigators are delivering water to 210ha, with a third pivot soon to irrigate a further 60 hectares.
Rather than selling wethers as lambs, they can now be kept through winter, shorn and then sold at the end of the year. The farm has greater capacity to fatten cattle. The pivots also give options for stock when higher country dries out over summer so hoggets can continue to flourish.
The Simpson family is passionate about the Mac-kenzie Country, with other ventures including the Cairns Golf Course and accommodation. Sam’s wife Sarah also owns and operates Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking.
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