Like painting a painting with a very large canvas and pallet is how award winning, Hawke’s Bay dairy farmer, Nick Dawson sees the environmental work he and his wife Nicky have done on their farm over the last 18 years.
Nick and Nicky were announced supreme winners of the 2019 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Award, as well as taking home the Bayleys People in Primary Sector Award, DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, WaterForce Integrated Management Award and the Predator Free Farm Award.
The Dawson’s 180ha effective farm is in a little area called Patoka – 40 minutes inland from Napier heading towards the Kaweka Range.
Nick is passionate about his farm and the work he and Nicky have achieved in their time – now beginning to see the fruits of their labour.
“There are lovely rolling valleys, gullies and creeks full of trees and lots of riparian planting so it’s a very pretty farm. Currently there are a lot of autumn-coloured trees. There are oaks, London plain trees, liquid ambers, walnuts, a lot of poplar and willows in the gullies, some plantation pines and a lot of natives. Every paddock has about five shelter trees on each side – all the pretty big trees that will provide shelter.”
About six years ago, some six hectares were tired at the back end of the farm where the creek goes.
Nick and Nicky have planted that up in a variety of native trees, some redwoods and douglas fir establishing a sediment and nutrient trap.
A track has been cut through the forest – perfect for walking or mountain biking, “It’s very cool,” says Nick.
Persistent trapping has rendered the farm predator free, welcoming a return of biodiversity including native birds, quail and pheasants back to the area.
Nick and Nicky’s journey on the farm commenced in 2011 when the couple accepted a 50:50 position, sharemilking 500 cows.
Three years later the farm owner put the farm up for sale – coinciding with a low payout year sending the cows’ value plummeting to $800 a piece.
The new owner didn’t want to continue with a 50:50 sharemilking arrangement and offered to buy the cows, with Nick and Nicky continuing on as farm managers if they wished, an offer they were not keen to accept.
While the Dawson’s could have looked at other farming opportunities, they had already made a lot of moves while developing their career, had a young family and liked the Hawke’s Bay area.
A 25% equity partnership was finally agreed to, with Nick and Nicky proving to be very good partners.
“The farm up the road came up for sale so the partnership company bought that as a run-off,” says Nick.
“Then the neighbouring farm came up for sale and we bought that, converting it to dairy. Four years later we sold them both and increased our equity to 50%. In December this year we leased the neighbouring farm on our own account.”
Then in April of this year Nick and Nicky were able to buy the dairy farm outright.
“It’s a dream come true – to be our own boss and set our own destiny. It’s what we have strived for the whole time.”
Passionate about animals and people, Nick says the award that he is most proud of was the People in Primary Sector Award.
“We get a lot of staff here and it’s lovely to see them have their families here and helping them go through the career path. A quote I read the other day was ‘Train them like you want them to leave but treat them like you want them to stay’.”
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