Awards a chance to learn, develop
ONE of Paula Cross’ aims is to make the wider public aware of all the good things that are happening behind the farm gate.
Raising the profile of farming is something the new judging coordinator for the Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards is passionate about.
Mrs Cross is no stranger to the awards process; she and her husband Brendon were supreme winners in the Otago awards in 2016.
Now she is an enthusiastic ambassador for the competition, encouraging others to get involved and reap the many benefits, as they did.
Opening that farm gate was also something the environmentallyminded couple embraced in a bid to show and educate their urban counterparts about farming.
They have hosted various school visits and have a visit pending from the local primary school as part of a Red Meat Profit Partnership programme in conjunction with New Zealand Young Farmers and CORE Education.
Their home, Roselle Farm, 2km from Portobello, is a particularly special spot. For more than 150 years, the Cross family has farmed amid the stunning beauty of the Otago Peninsula.
Brendon is the sixth generation to farm there, taking over the property at 21 following the untimely death of his father Ron.
In 1863, Brendon’s greatgreatgreat grandfather James McCartney bought 20ha at the top of Weir Rd and milked cows and fattened pigs.
Other properties were added over the years and, in 1957, Roselle Farm became a sheep farm.
The latest generation on the property have enjoyed their rural upbringing and both have career plans with a rural bent.
Thomas Cross (18) is heading to Lincoln University next year to study agricultural commerce and his sister Hannah (16) is
❛ We don’t expect a perfect farm with every box ticked. Future planning and future thinking is the focus
keen to study veterinary science.
Roselle Farm is a 200ha property, although the couple lease other blocks, giving them a total area of just over 900ha.
Cone block, leased from the Dunedin City Council, features the distinctive Harbour Cone, along with historic lime kilns owned by the Otago Peninsula Trust.
About 6.5km of public walking tracks are open most of the year and Brendon is heavily involved with the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group.
Ron and Annette Cross planted many trees on the farm and that planting has been continued by the next generation.
The couple have planted a lot of trees for slip protection, such as willows, poplars and eucalypts, and Brendon and Paula have increased the extent of native plantings, including riparian plantings around streams.
Shelter for stock is very important to the couple and Brendon has continued with planting shelter belts so every paddock had shelter.
Paula Cross grew up on a nursery on the outskirts of Hastings and came to Dunedin for tertiary studies.
She was introduced to Brendon through her flatmate whose boyfriend — now husband — was flatting with him.
Coincidentally, that couple — kiwifruit growers Mark and Catriona White, from the Bay of Plenty — were this year’s winners of the national Ballance Farm Environment Awards and the Gordon Stephenson Trophy.
Mrs Cross said it was great to see a kiwifruit operation win the award and she was keen to encourage other horticulturists and viticulturists to enter.
On completing her teaching studies, Mrs Cross applied for a teaching job in Otago but it proved difficult to get and she headed back to Hawke’s Bay.
Mr Cross followed her and worked on a farm but, halfway through that year, his father died and he returned home.
It was always the plan that he would eventually return to the farm, but it happened earlier than the couple had thought, Mrs Cross said.
She finished her year teaching and then got a teaching job in the South and began a new life on the farm, which was not a major transition.
Her grandparents were farmers, and she fondly recalled visits to their farm, while she grew up with soil under her fingers, she quipped.
Her father grew plants and she spent her holidays propagating plants and helping with anything that needed done.
As well as the nursery, the family also had a small orchard, selling berries, fruit and plants from a roadside stall.
Brendon was always keen to enter the farm environment awards and the couple first entered in 2005.
At that time, they wanted to acknowledge the work Ron Cross had done on the property but, in hindsight, they were not really ready for it.
So they decided they would ‘‘do it later properly’’ and that was advice they now gave to others, saying it was a good idea to enter and get a feel for it, then go back and reenter in the future.
The awards were so much more than just planting trees; the judging criteria were broad.
Entrants were judged on production, biodiversity, financial strategy, health and safety, inbusiness practice and compliance, nutrient, water and soil management, people and community involvement.
‘‘This may seem daunting but we don’t expect a perfect farm with every box ticked. Future planning and future thinking is the focus.
‘‘With volatility in the weather, market prices and challenges like Mycoplasma bovis, we fully understand certain plans are put on hold due to a farmer/grower needing to do what is required at the time to meet these challenges.
‘‘OBFEA is something that can help to give direction and something else to focus on.
The emphasis is to make our entrants feel supported and celebrated as opposed to feeling judged,’’ Mrs Cross said.
One of the best parts of being involved was the feedback from the judges, along with encouragement around what entrants were doing well.
Feedback from their first entry included the need to be more goaldriven and to set more targets. So one of their goals was to enter it when they felt ready.
At the awards function, there was an opportunity to meet likeminded people and the couple loved hearing stories of the other farming businesses. ‘‘That feeling of celebration was really strong,’’ she said.
It also made them follow through with some of their planning and provide some direction and there were always tips that could be picked up from others and adapted to their own operation.
‘‘It actually means you’re moving with the times, as well. If you are just looking within your own gate and fence, you tend to be just doing the same old, same old,’’ Mrs Cross said.
The experience had also made the couple more aware of what was required of farming, what people were expecting, and what others were doing.
She was keen to bring urban and rural together more and help improve the profile of farming, so that in the market, New Zealand was seen as a country that was ‘‘clean and green’’, that stock was well cared for and there was very much a pasturebased farming system.
But if farming practices were to be created that were less intensive and more friendly to animals and the environment, then the market had to match that, she said.
‘‘That’s what we’re hoping for, for the future and the future of farming in New Zealand,’’ she said.
One entrant in the farm environment awards had embarked on regenerative pasture management and that was really exciting.
That was just an example of learning from others, getting new ideas and new ways forward with new practices of farming, she said.
Entries close at the end of this month and more information can be found at www.nzfeatrust.org.nz
Picture perfect . . . Participants in the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Generation Next programme visit Brendon and Paula Cross’ Roselle Farm on the Otago Peninsula.
Looking to the future . . . Brendon and Paula Cross on their farm on the Otago Peninsula.