A family farm with an eye on a sustainable future

19 May 2015 by The Million Metres team queenelizabeth Manawatu-Whanganui

It all started with the big storm of February 2004 that struck the lower North Island. Millions of tonnes of hill-country soil and sediment were deposited in the region’s river systems. Massive floods cost the country $112 million in insurance claims, $77.6 million in damage to roads and bridges, and some $10 million in soil conservation work.* And that does not include the cost of the region’s loss of productivity.

Despite escaping major damage in the storm, Manawatu sheep and cattle farmers Curwen and Marija Hare are determined to help prevent the flooding happening again. Waterways on their Waituna West property feed into the Kiwitea River, a tributary of the Oroua River, and as they have their share of erosion-prone country, something needed to be done.

Erosion-prone land fenced and planted

The Hares are among a number of farmers who have joined the Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI), the Horizons Regional Council’s programme that identifies highly erodible land and advocates wise land use.

“Although the 2004 storm didn’t affect our farming enterprise, we did have some damage from it,” says Curwen. The SLUI Whole Farm Plan “identified 16 or 17 different soil types on the farm,” says Curwen. “Having that sort of knowledge helps with management of stock and future planning, and it pin points areas needing protection.” The Hares have since retired, fenced and planted erosion prone land.

Steep gorges are a feature of the erodible sand deposit soil on Curwen and Marija’s farm. Those gorges, approximately 12% of the farm’s land area including some permanently flowing streams, are now surrounded by approximately eight kilometres of fence.

Thousands of trees have since been planted as part of the Emissions Trading Scheme. And, thanks to the Hares’ participation in the Council’s possum eradication programme, native regeneration is occurring and birds are returning to the gullies.  

Enhanced biodiversity and easier farm management

“It’s fairly satisfying looking at areas as trees take hold…the previous owners had a no-tree policy so we are looking forward to the ongoing benefits of preventing nutrients getting into waterways and providing shade and shelter,” says Curwen.

“Fencing off the waterways hasn’t changed the carrying capacity of the farm, and retiring those areas has made management easier. It’s all part of sustainable farming; we need to be farming for ourselves and for the future because strip-mining the land won’t work,” he adds.

Their riparian restoration project funded by the Million Metres Streams Project and Westpac will build on their restoration work by speeding up regeneration, helping to reduce silt and phosphate run off into the stream and support the biodiversity already present. Westpac contributed $10,000 or 2,500 plants to the project as part of its community initiative to help solve long-term challenges facing New Zealanders. Planting is set to commence this winter.

Post script

Work by Curwen and Marija, other SLUI farmers and the Horizons Regional Council has had a positive impact on the river systems. Oroua River was named as one of the most improved in the 2014 New Zealand River awards – mainly due to improvement in sewage treatment, but also attributable to ‘planting of erosion-prone hill country’, according to Morgan Foundation. 

Curwen and Marija were the Horizons region recipients of:

2013 Ballance Farm Awards – Supreme Award Winners

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award

Waterforce Integrated Management Award

* Source: http://hwe.niwa.co.nz/event/February_2004_North_Island_Storm