Saturday, December 2, 2023

Arable Awards honour innovators and champions

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Twelve winners named at Arable Awards of New Zealand 2023. gala event in Christchurch
Innovation Award winners Jody and Blair Drysdale, right, with Michael Hales, managing director of award sponsor Barenbrug NZ.
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Doing things differently and striving for new ways to lift productivity and income helped earn Blair and Jody Drysdale of Hopefield Hemp the Innovation title at the Arable Awards of New Zealand 2023.

Those hallmarks featured strongly among winners of many of the 12 awards presented at Christchurch’s Air Force Museum of New Zealand in front of an arable sector audience of more than 600.

Federated Farmers Arable chair David Birkett noted that the turnout to the awards was not far short of double the ticket sales of the inaugural event last year and is testament to the good spirit and progressiveness in the sector, and eagerness to “celebrate our best and brightest”.

Judges said the Drysdales, third-generation farmers at Balfour in northern Southland, had the courage to review their traditional arable and beef production systems and step into the world of hemp growing, processing, manufacturing and marketing. 

Since the early days, when they would process hemp hand and body cream in a kitchen cake mixer, they’ve steadily upped production to now encompass a full range of hemp oils, balms and health capsules.

Arable Food Champion Award winners Rob and Toni Auld can tell a similar story. It was nearly 20 years ago that the Aulds decided to look beyond traditional farm income streams to start making a range of whiskys, gins and other spirits from the wheat, oats and barley grown on their Southland farm. Auld Farm Distillery, which was also last year’s Innovation Award winner, is now the third largest whisky producer in New Zealand.

The Arable Farmer of the Year, Hugh Richie, knows the value of perseverance. With 880ha of crops and 1120ha in stock finishing in Hawke’s Bay, his business took a huge hit from Cyclone Gabrielle. But judges noted Hugh had built a diverse farm system to cope with change and adversity.

“He’s always looking to do better, always looking to see what he can learn from,” the judging panel said. “Hugh was proactive and supportive of the Cultivate Investments concept for the industry.”

Three Grower of the Year awards were presented: Maize, David and Adrienne Wordsworth from Northland; Small Seeds, Andy and Jo Innes from Rakaia; and Grain, Sam and Hannah Grant from Ashburton. Strong yields, willingness to use new technology and strong connections/giving back to their industry are common denominators across these top growers.

The Researcher of the Year, Dr Richard Chynoweth from the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR), is credited with making an outstanding contribution to seed research, with his work on the mechanisms of ryegrass flowering revolutionizing knowledge in this field.

Timaru’s Andrew and Amy Darling, Federated Farmers members who – in the words of the judges – “walk the talk” on the likes of soil health, minimum tillage and precision fertilizer use, took out the Environmental and Sustainability Award.

Also passionate about the arable industry in NZ is the winner of the Emerging Talent Award, James Abbiss of Silverton Pastoral. The operations manager on the family farm in Feilding, Abbiss has filled leadership and governance roles at (FAR) and led a study tour to the United Kingdom aimed at learning what overseas systems might tell us.

Other winners were:

Agronomist of the Year – Paul Johnston of Yara Fertilizers

Plant Breeder/Plant Researcher of the Year – the Barenbrug NZ Plant Breeding Team

Arable Employer of the Year – PGG Wrightson Seeds

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