In search of New Zealand's best farm: Palliser Ridge

New Zealand farms are facing a number of challenges, but some are meeting them head-on.

Palliser Ridge is one of those, taking out the 2019 Ballance Farm Environment Award for the Greater Wellington Region.

Predominantly sheep and beef, the 1300ha farm in South Wairarapa has an 8000-strong flock and 1600 cattle. However for the past five years it's also had a focus on diversifying - setting up wool, honey and tourism operations.

"There's an element of having some risk spread, you know," Lisa Portas, the farm's expansion manager, told Newshub Nation.

"We've got the core business, which is really great, but we live in such a changing world."

Lisa and her husband Kurt manage the farm, but were offered equity five years ago by owners Jim and Marilyn Law.

"The vision we had to have a great farm, or certainly a good farm, has worked," Jim told Newshub Nation.

"We get great satisfaction from walking around the farm and seeing good pastures, protected native bush areas, wetlands, and of course very good stock and then a good team."

To help combat erosion on some of the steep hill country, the farm plants about 500 poplar poles a year. It also puts in one wetland, three shelterbelts and around 4000 native trees per annum to combat sedimentation, nutrient runoff and provide shelter for stock. 

"That's a lot of carbon getting absorbed," Kurt said.

"Also, if you've got a deeper soil then you're going to be able to capture more carbon in that soil. You can do that through rotational grazing so animals are crucial." 

A major part of the farm's ethos is keeping production in the local community. 

Its meats are processed locally and distributed to restaurants throughout the region by the Greytown Butchery. Its beehives are looked after by a local family, and its wool is shorn, scoured and spun into yarn in New Zealand.

"I guess we just have that belief that if we keep doing production here, then these guys will all get so busy that maybe there will be another factory open up and just all of that stuff will come back," Lisa said.

Palliser Ridge also hosts a knitting event in the wool shed on the first Sunday of each month, with people from across the region coming together to enjoy the sweet treats and teas, as well as yarns and yarn.

"Basically it came from Lisa, because we're not on the beaten track and you've got to come here, but once it started, I mean you can see people just like it," Marilyn said. 

"It's lovely wool, they know where it comes from, and more and more people want to know where things have come from.

"So they can come here and see the sheep and see this is where the wool has come from and it means something. So we've had a good name from the start."

While their approach works for them, the team pushes back on the idea that other farms should just copy and paste it.

"Obviously we're really proud of what we get up to here," says Lisa, "but it's not a one-size-fits-all in this industry.

"Everyone has a different path, or a different story, or different resources."

Kurt echoed her sentiments, adding everyone is motivated to keep improving for the future.

"Every farmer is trying to make their farm better than what it was yesterday," he said. 

"That's what drives us, looking back and going, man, this is a lot better than it used to be."

Newshub Nation.

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