We know there's a huge amount of great work going on by people in communities around Otago to maintain or improve freshwater quality in their area.

We're show-casing 'everyday water heroes' here on this page so please tell us if you know someone who is going the extra mile to protect or enhance a river, stream, wetland or lake near you. 

Sam and Liz Barton


Sam and Liz Barton with their family

Sam and Liz Barton with their family

Sam and Liz Barton won the Otago Regional Council Quality Water Management Award at the 2020 Ballance Farm Environment Awards. We interviewed them to find out their winning formula.

Sam and Liz Barton farm at Moa Flat in West Otago. The farm, Montana Pastoral Ltd, is made up of 4,800 sheep and beef stock units. Montana’s on-farm objective is to “consistently maximise profit by sustainably producing to a very high standard, while minimising any negative impact on the stock, staff and the environment”. Sam and Liz want to be high performing, but also wish to preserve what they have, and enhance it where they can.

The Bartons are shareholders in Montana along with Phil and Jenny McGimpsey. Sam and Liz will endeavour to increase their shareholding over time, but to achieve this they must be on top of their game.

“The business aims at consistently producing a dividend and we always allow for some capital improvements within our budget,” they said. “We believe that by preserving natural resources we will also increase our capital as demand for farms that have incorporated modern farming systems and infrastructure increase. It’s great for our waterways, but also for our stock health and wellbeing – it seems to be interrelated.” Sam and Liz have educated themselves about good practice for waterways by completing the Beef + Lamb NZ Land Environment Plan levels.

Sam says his approach to farming has evolved. “I was always focused on stock performance and improvements but now it’s the bigger financial picture, environmental considerations and sustainable farming. I look at it like this: I treat my management practises as if I was constantly being viewed by anyone urban, rural or foreign - I would like them to see happy, healthy stock and staff, clean fresh water, minimal hazards and to really portray the clean green image of NZ. I believe this flows through to the final product – we strive to produce high quality meat and fibre. We are passionate about what we produce and how we produce it.”

The team at Montana focuses on maximising profits and doing well with their production, as it allows them the opportunity to finance improvements such as fencing off major waterways and adding new reticulated water schemes. They also want to have culverts on all major stock crossings within three years. Sam believes this not only reduces the negative pressure on waterways, but can also improve stock flow. Sam and Liz take out an extra paddock for crop to mitigate the area lost to buffer zones, which also help protect waterways.

The 2020 Ballance Farm Environment Award judges noted that the Barton’s farm practices are guided by a comprehensive business plan and the couple was commended for continually improving their business skills through industry initiatives, self-development and professional learning.

By protecting waterways from sediment, Sam and Liz have managed to maintain or improve the population of freshwater crayfish in the creeks around the farm. “If you go up the creek with the kids and a spotlight, it is just loaded, which is great to see and respect.”

Recently, Sam moved from conventional ploughing with a tractor to a direct drilling system that has saved time, reduced the amount of sediment loss, and has been financially beneficial too.

When Sam puts a crop in, he leaves a 5-metre buffer zone, and in many cases there is also an area of tussock before you reach the creek. He only grazes sheep on the crop and uses big breaks. Sam says, “When feeding brassicas I like to employ the least intensive system possible. This involves big breaks, which allows for less impact damage and pugging, improved animal performance, less animal stress and of course less labour.” This year they also put straw bales around their critical source areas as a sediment trap. These good practice initiatives were also noted in the comments by the award judges.

Sam and Liz have introduced two water schemes onto the property. They were planning to add another one this year, however this has been delayed due to the COVID-19 situation. “We also had more fencing to do and a lot of new waterscapes, so it’s a shame to have to postpone these projects.”

They originally had a one-year cropping programme but by occasionally introducing a two-year programme, they’ve been able to resolve some issues with fertility and weeds. “We want to walk out with the paddocks sown in young grass with tidy well positioned fences, fertility in order, and no weeds,” Sam says. “That’s the way we want to roll at the moment.”

Shelter is also provided by the natural snow tussock preserved by previous owners. “The tussocks provide good shelter for the sheep in a snowstorm and shade in the summer. It also helps filter any nutrient runoff and is very aesthetically pleasing.”

Sam and Liz have completed a nutrient budget and are happy with the results. “We want to keep a rolling document to analyse and track progress and also to plan ahead.” This approach to monitoring and measuring to improve their farming practice was one of the big things that impressed the awards judges. The couple is also in the Pomahaka River Care Group and are monitoring nitrates, E. coli and phosphorus levels as part of a community initiative.

Sam feels that little things can make big differences and they don’t have to affect your cash flow or your workload. He acknowledges it can be hard to change habits of previous generations, but he believes “minute changes can have a remarkable impact on the environment”.

“I know personally we are doing everything we can to protect waterways. I want things to look pretty, I want our stock to be happy and healthy and I want them to taste good. We give it our all and we do our best and I hope people respect that. We love our land and animals and people.”

Farm facts:
• 553 hectares, including 42 hectares of trees and laneways
• High-altitude property ranging from 1,550-2,500ft
• It’s warmer than expected due to shelter ranging from large areas of snow tussock and gullies, to a variety of plantations and shelter belts.
• 3,200 ewes, 880 hoggets, 100 mixed-aged cows
• 30-40 hectares of winter brassicas

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