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Day 6: Stories from Southland

September 27, 2017



Conversations with:


Hamish Bielski ( Rehoboth Farm)

David Diprose (Ermedale Farm)

Suzanne Hanning Baes (Bristol Grove Dairies LTD)

Chris Mangion (CPM environmental Tapui)

Chris Arbuckle (Touchstone - Wanaka)

After a great evening celebrating the success of our final event we were up and on the road early Sunday morning to drive all the way from Christchurch to Balclutha. We had a very positive phone call from Glen Lauder, inspiring us, and motivating us to put all the effort we could into the last few days of the trip.

Rehoboth Farm - Balclutha


It was just out of Balclutha that we had our first visit, meeting Hamish Bielski from Rehoboth Farm. Although we left early to get there we still only managed to get to Rehoboth as it was nearing dark. Hamish greeted us warmly and we quickly followed him out to some near by paddocks on his bike.


Dawn (Hamish’s dog) was quick to the chase and started mustering up sheep while Suggie took some shots of Hamish on the farm.


Rehoboth is a sheep and beef farm that has been in transformation for the last two years. Hamish is passionate about creating regenerative farming systems that give back to the land.


"Agriculture is not the problem, it is the management of our system that is the problem. Agriculture can be a part of an awesome solution once we get it right." Hamish stressed.

Hamish and his family were incredibly inviting and insisted we came in for some tea and a chat before we headed off. We heard from Hamish, about how much farmers care and want to make a difference but the issue is with large bodies or corporations, not with the individual farmers. They feel frustration from having their hands tied in many ways. He was really intrigued about how we had come on our journey and we spoke of the power of the community and crowd, and how it had been individuals contributing to our Pledgeme that had allowed us to make the roadshow occur. See Hamish’s story here.


It wasn’t until just before midnight that we arrived in Riverton to rest for the night before our visit to Pourikino Valley the following day.


Ermedale Farm - Invercargill


Ermedale Farm was hit with a lot of flooding over night, but David Diprose was wonderfully accommodating with the challenges that were going on behind the scenes. We arrived to a warm welcome by, Suzanne Hanning Baes, a nearby dairy farmer at Bristol Grove Dairies Ltd Chris Mangion, who runs CPM environmental Tapui and David. After introductions over coffee we all moved into the living room to delve into deeper conversations about Land and Water in Southland.


It was touching hearing Chris, David and Suzanne’s stories on what brought them to do what they are doing and where their passion lies for the land and water.


“You have an innate sense of connection with your animals. You can look at a mob of cows and instantly notice if something is not right. It eats you when you drive down the road and see that on someone else’s land.” Suzanne told us, “You don’t do this job lightly. You do it because you love the animals.”


Chris, has worked in the environmental space for over 20 years, working in government for a significant portion of this. He did development assessments for properties - for developments before working in the farming space.


Chris told us, “I truly believe that all sorts of farming and the environment can work together and be harmonious. Farming needs to match the environment that you are in. The more suited it is, the better the outcomes are for your farm and the environment. I’ve seen a massive shift”.


When we asked Chris what he believes farmers need to make changes in, he told us “Time & understanding. People can’t get everything done immediately. Every farm is different. What works in one farm isn’t going to match another.”


Dave Diprose moved to Southland from the Waikato. “My cows are my passion. When I wake up in the middle of the night and I hear wind or rain on the roof I’m thinking about the cows and the condition they’re in. Are they safe, are they protected from flood waters. That's why I went farming, it wasn’t because I wanted to make money, it’s because I wanted to be with the cows, I wanted to be a farmer.


But the environment is something I hold dearly, that I have always known it is essential to work in harmony with. When we’re under the most pressure as a farmer, we’re having the most sediment run off, the most challenges on the farm and we’re just in survival mode, we’ve got to get our cows out of the water, away from the flood. Sometimes in those circumstances environmental things get compromised, and that's not our desire. The number of cows and the welfare of those animals is primarily what a farmer is driven by. Farming isn’t simple. It’s not like you can do this in this place and this in that place. Different regions are different. And we’re trying to get our head around it”


Things take time to flush out - there is a time lag in the system. And standards are changing all the time. But you don’t know it's wrong until you see the effect.


It would be really cool if we could get science to help us make some of these decisions on farms. It would be much better to say - we’ve got a challenge in this area, is it better to grow this sort of grass - would it be better to plant this grass, does it have this effect in this subcatchment. Or the way that we plant trees around here, is this gonna have an impact on the way we do this. Instead of telling us about the problems that we already know.


I’m interested in how can we work together and support each other to improve? It’s really upsetting when eople come in and say you’re doing it all wrong. It can be felt by farmers as you’re not longer a kiwi because of what you’ve done. We understand we don’t always have to agree. That's okay. We just want to improve.


We are in fear. You think back during the 80’s things were secure. There were subsidies. You knew that on the 20th of the month that you would be able to pay the bills. Then suddenly overnight subsidies were gone. Farmers are fearful that they might invest money and what if it doesn’t work? It’s all a little bit unknown and uncertain, and they’ve been kicked in the teeth investing in things in the past. They’re scared.


Challenge of moving forward is uncertain. The market is bouncing a lot. Last year we came out with profit but at the start of the year we were going to make a big loss. But in years previously we thought we were going to make a profit and we came out with a big loss. Market jump creates quite a bit of tension in how we manage our businesses. Takes away the appetite for risk. We need to think about we need to pay our staff, we need to pay the bank. It’s about surviving. Even now we have no idea what our milk is going to be worth at the end of the year.”


We were curious of what the thought was around climate change giving that we heard a lot about this conversation in the cities but the topic hadn’t been brought up in the same way in the rural areas we visited. Kiran brought this conversation up. They said that climate change is hard, it can’t be a top priority when you are trying to survive and on a good year you break even in this industry. That we need to move beyond finger pointing and come together as a collective NZ and address what we can all do. It’s hard for anyone to connect with the urgency of climate change on an everyday level and for these farmers down in central Southland the threat of rising sea levels and droughts were even further away.


Dave then lent us each a pair of gumboots and showed us around the farm, the flood waters were high. Dave was incredibly hospitable and welcoming, you could feel love for his animals, the land and water. He had gone out of his way and brought together these people to come and speak to us. It was an honour to have met Dave, Suzanne and Chris and to hear their stories.


See more on this story here.

Touchstone - Wanaka


After a visit our to Dave’s farm we were quickly back on the road to get to Wanaka to meet Chris Arbuckle from Touchstone.


We went down to Lake Wanaka with Chris where he showed us the waterways leading into the Lake and informed us of the work that he does. Having worked in this space in government for a long time and having heavy involvement in the land and water forum Chris is a wealth of knowledge in the space. Eddie Spearing, Chris’s cofounder joined us after a few hours and told us about what the work means to him.


Touchstone does many things in the community but three main projects are:


Project 1 - Freshwater Beasties on Drains.


Working with Paul van Klink (Fish & Game, Otago), Touchstone will provide trial examples of some new innovative freshwater creature designs which all live in Lake Wanaka. They’re being fixed near drains, around Wanaka lake front. Touchstone is engraving the words “only rain” on the steel/copper plate designs. The intention of this project is for urban dweller behaviour change which will therefore create Water Quality improvement.



Project 2 - Wishbone Falls Stream and Wetland Restoration.



Working with Randall Aspinall, owner of Mt Aspiring Station, Fish and Game and Aspiring Environmental, Touchstone is helping to organise voluntary support for a riparian planting and wetland project at Wishbone Creek and the Falls in the west Matukituki River valley.  Wishbone falls is a popular short walk for tourists.  This project will enhance access and re-instate riparian buffers. Chris also works with a number of other farmers around the Lake, educating them on what they can do to ensure they’re doing the best for the environment.


Project 3 - What are we swimming in ? – citizen lake monitoring project.


Wanaka Lake Swimmers, Mount Aspiring College and Wanaka Primary School are working together on a lake water quality project. We are establishing a water quality survey of some of the numerous drains that flow into the bay. Then, if we find drains carrying high loads of bacteria, sediment or the like, we will help tidy up any source identified.  


Chris and Eddie also do a number of other projects, much of which is educating children in the local schools and addressing anything water quality related that is a concern for the community.


"The key thing is to do stuff that matters to the lake. To get out and do things that fix water quality for everyone to enjoy." Summed up Chris’s passion.


What became clear to us from our time in Wanaka with Chris and the many conversations over good food was that, change comes from within a community, from gaining the respect and friendship of others by sharing your passion and leading by example. Chris had seen how government regulation works in practice, that it becomes another box to tick on an already long list of things to do to ensure the survival of a farm. Unless there is a strong community of support and connectedness to their surroundings meaningful change will not occur or be a long term solution. The beauty of the lake in Wanaka and Chris’s incredible initiatives and enthusiasm for it’s protection have acted as a catalyst for a wide spread culture shift on environmental practices surrounding the lake. This mobilises everyday people in the town to consider their actions towards water pollution as well as the farming community.


Chris was incredibly hospitable and took us out to Kai, the local restaurant for a drink and dinner, before allowing us to stay with him. He showed us some of the incredible eels in the lake…

Early the the next morning Chris gave us all a gift before we left the house, we each received a lovely gift of one of his ‘Fresh water beasties’.


He then took us out to a ‘special spot’, we were awed when we saw the beauty of this place on the side of the lake. You could feel the passion that runs through his veins for this place.


We felt full leaving Wanaka early that day. Oh how we had been blessed to meet such incredible people on this journey. We promptly drove back to Christchurch to catch our flight home.


See the final vlog here.


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