Mike and Sharon Barton are long time advocates of farming within nutrient and water limits
A unique and innovative approach to farming in an environmentally sensitive area has earned Tihoi beef farmers Mike and Sharon Barton the supreme title in the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
The Bartons, who farm 142ha Glen Emmreth Farm on the western side of Lake Taupo, were also presented with the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award and the Massey University Innovation Award.
Mike and Sharon bought the Tihoi farm in 2004 at a time when strict environmental legislation to protect the health of the lake was looming. They faced this challenge head-on, determined to make their farm as environmentally sustainable as possible.
BFEA judges said the business “has been built from its inception with the understanding that it must be made environmentally sustainable in an extremely difficult location”. They praised the Barton’s proactive mindset and their huge commitment to furthering industry change “to true environmental accountability and sustainability”.
Glen Emmreth Farm carries 2000 stock units on 128ha effective (including an 8ha lease block). Running an all-grass system, first-cross Charolais/Angus heifers are bought in as weaners and finished as rising two-year olds.
Contour is mostly flat to rolling with some steep faces around a stream that runs through the farm and adjacent reserve land into Lake Taupo. The Bartons have performed considerable environmental work on the farm, including fencing and planting riparian areas. They have also installed new crossings and a dam, and built a central farm race for improved access and soil protection.
Mike, a former chairman of farmer group Taupo Lake Care, is a trustee for the Lake Taupo Protection Trust, the body charged with reducing the catchment’s nitrogen output.
Along with other farmers in the catchment, Mike and Sharon successfully agitated for science and research funding specifically for farming in the Taupo area, and Glen Emmreth became the host farm for a five-year AgResearch trial. AgResearch continues to look at various aspects of both on-farm management and the business model based on the Taupo Beef brand.
Landcare Research also has work ongoing at the farm. Dr Malcolm McLeod is the project manager for the eight to nine year long research project which is looking at leaching under lucerne. (It is a cut and carry regime, so no stock are grazing on the lucerne).
The Bartons have been heavily involved in this research, which BFEA judges said has provided a catalyst “to get farmers to think outside of their conventional ways and challenge themselves to be more environmentally aware and responsible”.
They said the Bartons’ contribution to the development of a target-based methodology will greatly assist New Zealand’s farming industry, including farm environment management. “This farm model shows there are different ways of doing things, with outcomes that can fit into tight restrictions.”
Judges also noted the couple’s willingness to challenge conventional wisdom about optimum biological Olsen P levels under pumice soil. The extensive use of Overseer in conjunction with interim results from leaching research has aided decision making on the farm.
After buying the farm Mike completed an MBA with a research project on “The implications of a nitrogen cap on farm businesses in the Taupo catchment”.
In 2011 the Bartons established their own brand ‘Taupo Beef’ to market top quality meat to high-end retail outlets. Mike and Sharon manage and work the farm and the beef supply business, which currently sells beef from two private farms (including their own) and from a local Maori Incorporation.
BFEA judges said the “vertical growth” of the business has allowed it to capture a premium by directly supplying quality beef to the consumer.
The year since they won the award has been “a bit of a blast really” Mike says, and has included giving papers at science conferences around the country and receiving a QSM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. The BNZ featured the couple in their annual report, and in the annual report of its parent bank, the National Australia Bank.
Mike Barton is happy to respond to any queries or comments about his farm operation. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.