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Young Otago sheep and beef farmers named 2023 National Ambassadors for Sustainable Farming and Growing

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Steven and Kellie Nichol of Auldamor in Otago have been announced as the 2023 National Ambassadors for Sustainable Farming and Growing and recipients of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy at the National Sustainability Showcase at Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.

Managed by Grant Bezett, Auldamor is primarily a sheep breeding and finishing operation, with additional cattle grazing, and carbon and production forestry.

Steven and Kellie are constantly evolving their farming business though diversification and adapting production systems, all while considering environmental impact. Their 1,498ha property is located at Clarks Junction, Otago. The Nichol family has been farming in the area since 1871, meaning they have a strong connection to the land and consider improvements and guardianship a priority.

In 2007, the Nichols leased 976ha from Steven’s parents and purchased it outright in 2010. In 2019, the farming operation was extended with an additional 522ha neighbouring lease block. During their tenure, Steven and Kellie have continually strived to improve, develop, expand and adapt the farming business.

The team runs 4,500 ewes, 1,500 hoggets and 80 rams, and graze an average of 290 mixed-age beef cows each year. Stock performance and profitability has been continually improved by adapting farming systems and emphasising on-farm measuring and monitoring.

The Nichols have focused on improving the farm’s subdivision and infrastructure, with several initiatives to improve soil health, including a no-till drilling programme. This has led to improved pasture resilience, better yields, and improved stock performance and animal health.

The property’s biodiversity has been enhanced through the planting of shelterbelts and forestry stands, along with significant fencing of native shrubland and waterways.

Steven is extensively involved with the local community catchment group and is one of several local farmers participating in a greenhouse gas mitigation project that is primarily focused on reducing gross methane emissions.

Early on in their farming journey, Steven realised he didn’t need to operate in isolation, and gathered a group of mentors and industry experts to ensure the success of their farming operation. The Nichols have elected to live off-farm, but are close by and keep in constant contact with their farm manager. This approach has helped them develop a strong business model and successfully achieve a wide range of goals.

The regional judges commended the Nichols’ high level of knowledge about all aspects of their farm, their farming business and their guardianship of it, noting that – along with farm manager Grant Bezett – they make a great team, with many complementary skillsets.

Chair of the National Judging Panel, Dianne Kidd noted the exceptionally high calibre of Regional Supreme Winners this year, with all farms and orchards presented to an incredibly high standard.

The judging process for the Gordon Stephenson Trophy includes on-farm judging as well as a panel interview, with the trophy recipients displaying a combination of an exemplar farming operation – from a financial, social and environmental perspective – and the ability to articulate informed responses and insightful views on a range of pan-sector topics.

“Steven and Kellie Nichol certainly demonstrated that they will be excellent Ambassadors for the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust and are worthy recipients of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy.  They articulated clear, intelligent and insightful responses to our questions demonstrating an ability to communicate often complex ideas and issues in an easy-to-understand manner. Combined with their on-farm judging experience we know they can and will ‘walk the talk’,” Kidd said.

The National Judging Panel also commended the Nichols for their “passion for farming with a holistic approach, bringing off-farm skills into the business.”

The National Sustainability Showcase event at Te Papa Tongarewa celebrated each of the ten Ballance Farm Environment Awards Regional Supreme Winners from across the country. Hosted by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, the event is held annually as the pinnacle of the BFEA programme, and connects primary industry representatives from across the sector.

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