Landcare Ambassador Update

(Published on 18th April 2013)

Last year NZ Landcare Trust announced the winners of the inaugural Landcare Ambassador Awards. The six winners were rewarded for their dedication and leadership within the field of sustainable land and water management, where they demonstrated an outstanding commitment to community-led practical solutions. This article is the first in a series that aims to catch up with these inspirational people and find out what they are doing now.

The drought man, as Doug Avery is sometimes referred to, is used to working in challenging dry conditions. He jointly owns 'Bonavaree' the family farm with his son Fraser, at Grassmere on the dry East Coast of the South Island. Years of drought resulted in Doug and Fraser 'doing things different.' They successfully developed a farm management system that works in sympathy with the land, rather than battling against it. Doug was chairman of the Starborough / Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Group, working alongside NZ Landcare Trust. The huge success of this work attracted international acclaim and continues to influence farmers working in dry areas today.

This years dry hot summer has resulted in many more farmers having to face the dreaded 'D' word. According to many weather experts, farmers can expect to face drought conditions more frequently in the future, so Doug's knowledge and experience will become increasingly valuable.

After a hot dry summer with a few medium rain events Bonavaree continues to enjoy success. This year has seen a record number of lambs with an average carcass weight of over 19 kgs. In addition the mating weight for ewes has increased, running at 5kgs above previous highs. The occasional rain helped maximise Lucerne production reinforcing the benefits of adapting farm management systems to suit local conditions. Doug maintains you don't have to drain rivers to make profitable farms.

The value of Lucerne was again illustrated when Doug and his son Fraser attended a field day at Bog Roy Station Omarama. Gundy and Lisa Anderson achieved a 38% return on capital following their conversion to Lucerne. This reflects the kind of advantage gained elsewhere including at Bonavaree. Doug says, "We are dealing now, with a system which can no longer be called 'poor man’s irrigation'. Coupled with this is hugely better environmental processes. We need to spend far more energy looking at high profit low damage systems of farming."

Enthusiasm and passion have made Doug a popular conference speaker, which has now led to a regular Thursday slot on Jamie Mackay's farming show. Doug has used the show as an opportunity to offer support to farmers dealing with drought, advising them to attack this type of challenge with a plan. He says, "Put in place ideas and strategies that enable you to move forward into the future."

Doug advises farmers to speak up and seek advice, nobody should soldier this situation on their own. "Avoid doom, gloom and despair merchants, they'll just drag you down!" says Doug. He tells a personal account of how he was at a low point, feeling bloody terrible, sat on a hill with a mate Kev Loe. They were looking across drought ravaged South East Marlborough, ashamed and disgusted at the degradation they could see. Kev looked at him and said. "Doug, there's as much opportunity out there as now as there's ever been, but do we have the eyes to see it?" This statement proved to be a catalyst for Doug, and gets to the core of a message he wants to share with other farmers - look for opportunities and be willing to adapt to change.

Recently Doug has been working with a number of positive people including those he met at the Platinum Primary Producers Conference held in Brisbane in early April, where he was asked to deliver a keynote speech. In a radio interview about the event Doug mentions a huge interchange of ideas that took place both in the conference room and also afterwards in the more relaxed atmosphere of the hotel. This final point links to another key message that Doug shares with farmers - take time out, get away from the property and let your hair down. You can't fight drought or overcome farm problems if your own brain is fried! Its important to keep things in perspective, communicate with others and share problems.

You can see Dougs presentation at the NZ Landcare Trust Conference:

Radio recording of Doug speaking about drought management with Jamie Mackay:



Back to Archive