Dairy farmers, Nick and Nicky Dawson from Patoka, near Hastings, have been going hard out with predator control in the last four years or so. They were recently deserving winners of the East Coast region Ballance Predator Free Farm Award and overall East Coast regional award.
While no stranger to awards for their long-time environmentally friendly dairy farming practises, Nick reckons the Predator Free Award was one of their best prizes.
“We’ve had great results from predator control,” says Nick. We’ve caught lots of stoats and a good lot of possums. Now there’s lots of tuis and heaps of fantails about. We might have to change the name of our farm from Glenelg to Pīwakawaka! There are lots of wood pigeons too, which we didn’t used to see and lots of bellbirds, which we hadn’t really seen before either
Not all the pests on the farm are predators, however.
“One of our biggest pests is the deer. They rip up the newly planted trees with their antlers,” he says.
Nick and Nicky have done a lot of planting along fenced waterways and also in a 6 hectare gully at the back of the farm.
“The gully is where run-off would go, if there was run-off,” says Nick. “It’s got a creek running through and we’re planted it in exotics and natives as the final capture for nutrients.”
Plantings along the waterways include banksias, flaxes and other nectar plants.
“We try to pick trees that suit the birds,” Nick explains.
Nick says he’s gone from doing environmental work on his own land, to being an ambassador for the environment and environmentally friendly farming. The Dawsons have held an open day at the farm in association with Fonterra and DairyNZ where ‘townies’ can visit farms through ‘Open Gate’ events.
“We had about 80 people come and it was great fun.,” says Nick. “Fonterra supplied a marquee and we set up 5 spots for people to walk around and look, including the wetland area, our planting, seeing the cows and the dairy. It’s a good way for townspeople to see that most dairy farmers are not polluters and that the animals are healthy.”
Nick also takes part in a programme with local Year 10 students, encouraging them to come into farming when they leave school.
“It’s an initiative with Fonterra, DairyNZ, the Ministry of Education and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council,” he explains. “There is always a predators/trapping session with the students as well as ‘Ag Sports’ events which the Young Farmers organise.”
The scheme has been running for 3 years.
“We were the first farm involved and now another 2 farms have come onboard,” says Nick. “About 100+ kids are involved. The first contingent will be leaving school next year and coming into the workforce, so we’ll soon see how successful the programme has been at attracting them into dairying.”
Younger children from local primary schools visit Glenelg as well and Nick has a freezer full of pests ready to show for school visits.
“The kids love it. We’re the closest dairy farm to town so get 2-3 visits from schools each year,” he explains.
Visiting students are often given the job of planting.
“We buy the plants in from the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council which subsidises planting at $3/tree. The trees are specifically chosen for waterways,” Nick says. “It’s a good scheme.”
Nick is also chair of the local OSPRI (TB Free) branch. It’s another reason he’s keen on good possum control.
“Unfortunately Hawke’s Bay North is the only place in the North Island that has still got TB,” he explains. “We’ve just had an outbreak. People don’t remember what TB used to be like. It’s been a reminder to them.”
Nick and Nicky Dawson received their Ballance Predator Free Farm Award in Napier earlier this year. One of the finals judges, 2018 Horizons supreme winner Helen Long, said the Dawsons showed a strong desire to close the rural-urban divide.
“Nick and Nicky display a genuine passion and enthusiasm for their environment, industry and community; they are generous people, sharing their time and beautiful farm to the public.”
“Nick and Nicky exhibit a good sense of pride and respect for people, livestock and the environment,” fellow finals judge Alastair Ormond said.