When Tanya and Murray Frost bought their 263-hectare farm on the edge of the Marlborough Sounds a decade ago, they could tell it had potential. But that’s about all it had.
The Mt Oliver dairy farm was so rundown – with hardly any fencing, no irrigation and a leaking effluent pond – it fell well short of environmental standards.
The property was in such a poor state that Fonterra agreed to treat the Frosts’ takeover as a new conversion, giving them more time to comply.
The first thing they did when they took over the farm on Kenepuru Rd was work on the electric fences to control their stock and put in a storm water diversion.
“Over the next couple of years, we did three new water systems and purchased about 50 water troughs, plus 5 kilometres of pipes, [and] as we put the water system in, we fenced the waterways off,” Tanya said.
“We have now fenced off over 10km of waterways, mainly using recycled grape posts.”
The Frosts won the farming award at the 2021 Cawthron Marlborough Environment Awards. A field day was held on their farm earlier this month to showcase their environmental improvements and sustainable farming practices.
“We don’t really think we have done anything special, we’ve just worked hard, done whatever is the highest priority to get the farm compliant and profitable while looking after the environment and the health of our stock,” Tanya said.
With all the major waterways done, they were now “working on smaller ones”.
“Plus we had [been] and are still planting native trees along the waterways as we go.”
The couple had also built a new 2.6 million litre effluent pond, costing $200,000, increased their herd from 220 to 450, and risen their annual production from 77,000 kilograms of milk solids to 187,000kg.
Fonterra top of the south area manager Neil Cooper said at the field day the couple had ticked all the boxes of their recognition programme.
“Over the last 10 years, basically they’ve produced 1.6 million milk solids or 18 million litres of milk. That’s enough daily protein consumption to feed the whole of New Zealand for two days,” Cooper said.
Their milk went to a Fonterra factory in Brightwater to be made into whole milk powder before being sent to China.
Another tool in their tool box, was dung beetles.
Their beetle project, to speed up cow manure removal, was subsidised by the Marlborough District Council, which did them a deal on 4000 dung beetles for $2000.
The beetles burrowed down into the ground, sometimes a metre deep, to lay eggs in the dung.
Council environmental scientist Matt Oliver said by burying nutrients into the soil, dung beetles helped with soil health and water quality.
“They love nothing more than a nice lunch of fresh green cow poo.”
Oliver said it could take five years to see the results of dung beetles, but the Frosts were seeing improvements after 18 months.
Marlborough Federated Farmers dairy sector spokesman Evan White said the Frosts had taken their farm to the next level.
He called them innovative and progressive.
“In my eyes, you have reconverted a farm. I’m proud of what you’ve done as a fellow dairy farmer because you’ve had the guts to stick your head up … We need to hold our heads up, tell our story.”
Tanya and Murray said they were proud of what they had achieved.
“We’ve done pretty well to get there in 10 years. But we haven’t finished yet.”
And while there had been challenges, Tanya said “all-in-all we have loved, and still love, what we are doing”.