Canterbury farming couple Ted and Sue Rollinson are the New Zealand region winners of the inaugural Zimmatic™ Sustainable Irrigation Awards.
The Rollinson’s own a 380-hectare dairy farm in mid-Canterbury. Sharemilkers Tom and Leanne Heneghan have been on farm for 11 years and milk 1,500 cows on the property.
The Awards aim to celebrate excellence in sustainable irrigation and encourage Australian and New Zealand farmers to share ideas for achieving sustainable water management.
Each entrant was judged on the following categories: sustainable irrigation management; irrigation-driven improvements, which may include cost reductions, environmental outcomes, yield improvements and/or improved efficiencies; waterway protection; stewardship/community.
For Ted, entering the awards was an opportunity to benchmark their irrigation system, which spans 360 hectares of their farm, against some of the best operators across New Zealand and Australia. He is quick to credit the farm’s success to partnership and team work.
“The runs we’ve got on the board with our irrigation management have absolutely been the result of a 50/50 partnership with Tom and Leanne,” says Ted. “We’ve all worked hard to get to this point. One hasn’t got the Award without the other.”
Tom agrees and says he is grateful to the Rollinson’s for their commitment to investing in the necessary infrastructure to do the job right.
“Ted and Sue have invested heavily in the infrastructure on this farm, when they could have easily cut corners and still had a productive and profitable business. As sharemilkers, we are incredibly appreciative of that.”
Ted and Tom also acknowledge the input of Charlotte Glass from AgriMagic, who has been their environmental consultant for more than eight years.
Awards head judge Keri Johnston says the Rollinson’s are dedicated to continuous improvement, and have been for many years.
“Ted and Sue are just as passionate today as they were when they started. The fact that they have upgraded their irrigation system several times as technology and efficiencies have improved, and are still looking for more opportunities, is testament to their commitment to being irrigation trailblazers.
“They are progressive, smart farmers, who are aware of their environment, the risks and opportunities if presents, and are a valued part of their local and wider community. And now with Tom and Leanne, they have another generation coming through, bringing more ideas to the table, collaborating and doing research. The strength of their partnership was really evident to us.”
Recognition from the Awards comes after a complete reconversion of the Rollinson’s irrigation system from flood irrigation to spray irrigation, which took place between 2014 and 2017.
“Where our Zimmatic centre-pivots cross tracks, Precision VRI is used to eliminate watering of these areas. We completed the whole conversion ourselves, re-contouring all paddocks and re-aligning the tracks using a 25-year-old 20 tonne digger and a 50-year-old grader.”
Ted first came to mid-Canterbury from Murchison in 1981 and was one of the first drivers of dairy in Canterbury. The word in the community at the time was that his dairying dream would only last six months before going belly up. Nearly 40 years later, dairy is now an integral part of the mid-Canterbury economy.
Over the years, Ted has been an advocate for fair and equitable water access in the region, including working with Environment Canterbury and gaining access for farmers to local irrigation schemes. He was also chair of the Rakaia River Users Group for many years.
The judges acknowledged that the Rollinson’s have been influential in sustainable irrigation and their community for a long time.
“One of the judging categories was about sharing knowledge and supporting others in their communities to adapt and change, and Ted can certainly claim credit in this space!” says Ms Johnston.
Ted says that while he’s had years of farming experience, there is always more to learn and the Awards have been a great opportunity to do that.
“We certainly won’t let this win go to our head. We just can't stop farming because we've got the Award. The Award is an acknowledgement of where we are as a benchmark, and we really appreciate that. We will just carry on farming and do the best we can.
“We’re looking forward to learning from the supreme winners in Australia and see what ideas we could implement here in Canterbury to help us take the next step.”
Tom says the Award shows they’re on the right track, but it doesn't mean there's no room for improvement and using what they’ve got more efficiently.
“The day you find the perfect farm is the day you give up. And I don't think you'll ever find the perfect farm, with a perfect set up, with a perfect use of resources. Nevertheless, we strive for that every day, and this Award shows we're on the right track.”
James Craft of Zimmatic ANZ, says that the Awards acknowledge innovative farming operators and reward them for the vital role they play in the primary sector.
“We were extremely impressed by the calibre of applications for the Award and the excellence being practiced by these farmers who are focussed on improving their irrigation and water management.
“The Awards are an opportunity to help showcase the innovative farming operators who will influence future generations and play a role in strengthening New Zealand’s success story as global leaders in sustainable and profitable farming. We really look forward to the Awards becoming a regular feature on the agricultural calendar in Australia and New Zealand.”
Tasmanian farmers Rob and Eliza Tole of Cressy have been announced as the Australian region and Supreme winners of the Awards. They have won an overseas trip for two to the USA, when international travel is once again feasible.