Guardians of the Mangawhea Stream

Rod and Sandra McKinnon on their feed pad. Photo: Catherine Fry.

More than 25 years ago Matamata farmers Sandra and Rod McKinnon committed to the ongoing protection of the Mangawhea Stream that runs through their property, Oakstone Hinuera Ltd.

It was in their original mission statement. Today the McKinnons are proud their first generation farm won the 2018 Regional Supreme Award at the Ballance Farm Environment Awards for the Waikato Region.

In addition to this they also took home four other awards, acknowledging their efforts with their water and effluent management.

Oakstone is the first and only farm the McKinnons have owned as they’ve been fortunate enough to add further land over the years from neighbouring properties to grow their business.

The original farm of 44 hectares is now 194ha, with 370 cows producing 168,000kgMS. The judges commented on the commitment to looking after the environment alongside the business growth.

“We take great pride in caring for the land, and believe you should look after it,” says Rod. “It’s all about future-proofing and leaving the land better than we found it.”

“We see ourselves as guardians of the land,” says Sandra. “We are hoping that by sharing the work we have done here, we can be a role model to other farms.”

This ideal is also backed up by their decision to only run 2.7 cows per hectare.

“We still have a way to go, as it is of course dependent on time and money,” says Rod. “It is important to us that our farm continues to be an attractive, profit-making, environmentally responsible operation.”

Guardianship concept

The DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, and the Miraka Farm Stewardship Award, both acknowledge this guardianship of the land concept. The judges were impressed with the couple’s persistence with realignment of fences, and replanting riparian areas after flooding and stream bank erosion.

While Sandra has pursued a successful off-farm career in teaching, she’s always very much been part of the day-to-day decisions of running the farm.

“At times, it’s about focus and sacrifice,” says Sandra. “I’ve done my share of calf-rearing and relief milking, while raising children, and holding down a teaching job. But we enjoy the land and we enjoy looking after it, so for us it was worth the hard times at the start.”

Sandra has taken the lead in planning and planting of riparian strips and wetland areas. This high standard of riparian management, and the 100 per cent fencing around waterways, was commended by the judges. The couple hope to restore and regenerate native bush and attract wildlife to the area.

The WaterForce Integrated Management Award, and the Waikato Regional Council Water Protection Award, acknowledge the couple’s commitment to effluent and water monitoring and management.

Rod has enthusiastically adopted the state of the art, hi-tech, Yardmaster Halo electronic monitoring system to the extent of helping improve and extend the mobile phone application.

“Any alerts of problems come straight to my phone,” says Rod. “I can shut down the whole system or monitor what everything is doing, from wherever I am.”

Farm dairy effluent is stored in a large pond and irrigated over 30ha of the farm in drier months. Effluent management includes GPS monitoring of the irrigators, pond level indicators and geo-fencing of drains, rivers and wetlands. The geo-fencing stops the irrigators 50 metres from any waterways so there is no risk of contamination.

Case study farm

The green water in the effluent pond is also recycled back up to large water tanks near the dairy shed. After milking, this water is released in a rather spectacular way, surging down the feed pad, sweeping all solid matter away with it. The liquid is diverted into the pond, and the solids collect in a bunker. This is emptied around three times a year and spread on poorer pastures or cropping ground.

Water usage is monitored through water meters, with water supplied through two bores. The farm is fully reticulated, with troughs in every paddock, so livestock have no need to use the streams.

“If there are any leaks in the water system, the sudden rise in water usage gives us an early warning,” says Rod.

Mindful of using too much water, the farm is run using water efficiently as possible, with water regarded as a precious commodity.

Rod was a founding member of the Piako River Catchment Forum, and the farm has been a case study for the Fonterra Tiaki Sustainable Dairying Programme.

The judges said the farm is a leading example of a measured approach and consistently doing things well. “Both Rod and Sandra are very passionate about doing things once and doing it properly, and the farm is inspirational for improving aesthetics and enhancing biodiversity.”

Entries to the next Ballance Farm Environment Awards closed last month, with entrants and award winners to be showcased in regional functions held throughout the country in autumn 2019.


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