Supreme Environment Award Winners 2013

March 2014

Craige and Roz Mackenzie have been recognised for their superior environmental practices

Methven farmers Craige and Roz Mackenzie of Greenvale Pastures Ltd won New Zealand’s premier environmental farming award last year, the 2013 Ballance Farm Environment Awards’ Gordon Stephenson Trophy. They run an intensive arable operation using leading edge technology and precision agriculture to maximise sustainable production.

Craige and Roz Mackenzie have been prepared to think and act beyond the boundaries of conventional farming for some time now. In 2008 Craige was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study the carbon footprints of different types of farming systems. In 2010, they were filmed by Rural Delivery, attempting to win a place in the Guinness Book of Records by producing the world record for the heaviest wheat crop per hectare. They narrowly missed their target that year.

In 2013 the Ballance Farm Environment Award judges noted the intensive Greenvale farm operated simple and effective crop rotations. It was described as a neat and tidy property that is “a high performing unit in every aspect”.

The judges also praised the attitude of the Mackenzies toward their staff. Craige and Roz acknowledge their staff as “the most important aspect of their operation”. After winning the supreme award in the Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2013 they went on to win the national award, the Gordon Stephenson Trophy. BFEA judges described the Mackenzies as top producers who offer “high levels of innovation and leadership in the arable industry”.

They said the progressive couple has taken technology to the next step on their irrigated farm “using every available tool to improve their production and cost efficiency”.

They use:

• Electromagnetic soil mapping to give a clear picture of water holding and productive capacity within specific zones (this has helped them save 32% of water compared with previously).

• Variable rate irrigation to ensure crops are never overwatered.

• Soil and plant test information to plan and monitor nutrient use efficiency.

• GPS controlled tractor towing variable rate fertiliser spreading equipment to target nutrients to specific crop requirements.

• Strategic irrigation to ensure maximum seed germination while enhancing the activity of applied chemicals and increasing nitrogen use efficiency.

• Real time soil moisture sensors tied into computer controlled centre pivot irrigators. Decisions are still made by Craige and not the irrigator computer.

• They work collaboratively with science organizations such as NIWA and ECan because they believe it is important that good science reaches farmers.

They have used eddy covariance towers and lysimeters on their next-door dairy farm for the past five years. Sensors on the tower measures wind speed, direction, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide transfer, factors which determine how much water is lost via evapotranspiration. The lysimeter measures how much and how quickly water drains through a contained area of the soil profile. These findings are validated by soil moisture probes on site.

Greenvale grows mainly specialist crops, with this season’s rotation including; hybrid carrots, radish, fava beans, wheat, both seed and milling, and ryegrass and fescue for seed.

The 200ha cropping farm is fully irrigated. They have electromagnetically mapped the soils of the farm. Attention to detail and hygiene are important to them.

Next door they have a 50% equity share in a 330ha dairy farm, where a lower order sharemilker milks 1200 cows. Craige says the sharemilker is doing a fantastic job, and they are targeting an ambitious 2100kgMS/ha. The system five farm has high grain inputs, and this year is running four cows/ha.

With their daughter Jemma they co-own a company AgriOptics that utilises precision agriculture technology to provide agronomic support and solutions to farmers.

This company plays a big part in the way they manage the data in their farming businesses.

Precision agriculture is key to farming sustainably, Craige and Roz believe. They use all the precision technology they can including variable rate irrigation, variable rate fertiliser, soil sampling, crop sensors and yield mapping. “We need to be looking at new technologies and how they fit into our individual farming systems. We need as many tools on the shelf as possible, and we need a collaborative approach around sustainability, working with farmers, researchers and regulators.”

For example because farmers have a responsibility to use water wisely, weather forecasters likewise have a responsibility to supply the best quality information to farmers.

When Craige won a Nuffield Scholarship in 2008 he looked at carbon footprinting. “It became pretty clear that precision agriculture was a focused way to reduce our carbon footprint. For example, once I started to understand water-use efficiency, I realized we had a social responsibility to do something about how we managed and used this resource.”

“We often talk about the rural urban divide, but for me it is the rural urban connection. Everyone has a part to play in environmental management, it is no one sector’s responsibility.”

This year (2014) they are heading to South America to represent NZ as ambassadors for agriculture and environmental sustainability. Organised by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, the trip will be supported by a range of industry groups and Farm Environment Trust stakeholders. They are heading to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, and will look at cropping and dairy businesses. “We want to have a little bit of a look at GM technology. It’s time for a mature discussion around where GM fits, so we want to see what is happening in South America with GM technology.”

Entering the Ballance Farm Environment Awards competition has brought many advantages for the Mackenzies, including rubbing shoulders with lots of like-minded people, which they have found very motivating. “The competition also gives the opportunity to look hard at your business, take some time out from your own personal viewpoint, and make sure you can justify what you are doing. This gives an opportunity to benchmark yourself against other businesses and peers. We have always wanted to be the best that we can be, and we have always strived to use our property and soils in the most environmental sustainable way. We think there are huge opportunities and potential to help NZ Inc and NZ agriculture. We’re very lucky with the people we have met with precision agriculture and Nuffield, and now being able to travel and share that.”