Andrew and Heather Tripp at Nithdale Station

August 2014

A diverse operation has won a supreme environmental award for the second time

Kaiwera farmers Andrew and Heather Tripp who run a very diverse Southland farming business, recently won the Supreme Southland Ballance Farm Environment Award – for the second time. They also collected the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, the Massey University Innovation Award, the LIC Dairy Farm Award and the Alliance Quality Livestock Award.

The Tripps first won the local Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2002, which was before they added a dairy farm to their farming business. This time they were encouraged into the competition by their dairy consultant Ivan Lines.

“A lot had changed over the last 12 years for us,” Andrew says. “It was a good opportunity for us to see how we measured up since then. We try and farm sustainably and you never stop learning.” Farming sustainably means farming profitably, environmentally, and considering people and staff, he says.

“Our vision for the farm is to farm it profitably and sustainably, and that is central to everything we do. Our purpose is to operate a team and to be innovative.”

The business employs nine permanent staff, including the sharemilker and five staff on the dairy farm; and Andrew and three staff in the sheep side of the business.

“For us being part of a team is crucial. Once a month we have a morning combined meeting of all the staff, where we can catch up, have smoko together and look at the big picture stuff.”

There are six different parts to their 1635ha business: a dairy farm added in 2008, sheep, beef, forestry, two ram studs and a farmstay.

BFEA judges praised the Tripps’ commitment and passion for the land that was first bought by Andrew’s grandfather in 1924 (the Scott family had farmed it for 50 years prior to that). He farmed the land for 67 years, and died in 1991.

Andrew, who was raised in Christchurch, spent holidays on Nithdale as a child. He attended Lincoln and completed an agricultural science degree in 1988, before travelling overseas and coming back to the farm before his grandfather died. Andrew then went to Bible College in Auckland for three years and came back to the farm in 1994. He and Heather managed it for 20 years and now own the property wholly.

Part of their motivation has been to set the farm up for succession for their four children, a process which has taken them 26 years. They have three girls, aged 18, 13, and 11, and a son, aged 8.

Carrying 17,000 stock units, Nithdale is described as a large property with six enterprises running all at once and “excellence sought from every stream of the operation”.

Judges said the Tripps are at the cutting edge of farming for the future and are determined to adapt and adopt new practices.

Nithdale’s 275ha (effective) dairy unit was established in 2008. Sharemilkers Jan and Catherine de Klerk milk over 830 cows and the farm achieved production of 1309kg milksolids/ha last season. A feed pad for up to 600 cows was built two years ago and assists with prevention of soil pugging.

Judges described Andrew’s knowledge of soils on the property as “excellent”, noting his measured approach to increasing soil health by applying fertilisers to optimise plant uptake and nutrient efficiency.

The BFEA judges also noted that careful consideration had also been given to fitting stock class to the best use of land. “We prioritised the land and then stock in terms of access to it,” Andrew says. “When we converted the farm to dairy, we picked the best part. We don’t winter the cows on it, but it is good summer, spring and autumn cow country. Taking the best area away from the sheep has given us more of a challenge to get good performance from the sheep on undeveloped country.

Pasture utilisation, weed control and overall aesthetics are excellent, with established trees providing future income, biodiversity and shelter. All waterways on the dairy unit have been riparian fenced to incorporate generous buffer zones.

Judges also noted the Tripp’s focus on retaining as much red tussock and indigenous vegetation as possible during hill development. They observed the family’s attachment for their land “shines through very strongly”.

Extensive governance and management structures have been evolved to support the entire operation. Succession and family, and an ethos of excellence, innovation and teamwork is demonstrated across all aspects of the farm enterprise.

“We are always looking at making improvements and using the best technology which is out there for every area of our business,” Andrew says.

On the sheep side, which is Andrew’s passion, they use:

  • EID tags and scanners (and have done for the last 7 years)
  • A large monitor in the sheep yards for selling rams
  • All gene technology available including Shepherd Plus, a DNA test to match lambs to sires and dams
  • Sheep 50K and 5K testing to determine the genetic potential of an animal for a number of different traits based on its DNA
  • The MyoMAX gene test for muscling

In 2012 they won the best dual purpose flock in NZ breeding for resistance to internal parasites in the Beef + Lamb NZ sheep industry awards. In 2013 they picked up two more awards at this event : for dual purpose reproduction and for dual purpose internal parasite resistance. In June 2013, Nithdale Romneys had 10 sires in the top 13 on the SIL-ACE dual purpose and WormFEC list.

Their philosophy is to breed a low input, low cost sheep that performs. Now they are breeding for facial eczema tolerance in their Romneys. “It will only take a two degree increase in temperatures in the South Island due to global warming for facial eczema to become an issue down here. Plus we have clients in the North Island and upper South Island who want FE tolerant sheep,” Andrew says.

About five years ago they sold around 150 rams a year, and this has increased now to 500 rams a year. “We make more money from our rams than we do from our lambs now,” Andrew says.

Technology used in the dairy side of their business includes:

  • A 54 bail rotary shed
  • Automatic cup removers
  • Automatic teat spray
  • A new feed pad with a flush wash system
  • Recycled green water, using gravity and saving water

The farmstay part of their business hosts visitors every two or three weeks. “Both Heather and I have had time overseas and we like people coming to stay. Mainly we have people from the UK, Europe and America but we have the odd Kiwi stay. We had some Korean people recently who were working nearby,” Andrew says.

The Tripps do their best to ensure Nithdale is an “encouraging and positive” place to live and work, judges said. They also praised the couple’s commitment to their community.