Sustainable merino farming

How one Otago farmer combined sustainable farming with premium merino

How one Otago farmer combined sustainable farming with premium merino
Earnscleugh Station is transforming a merino farm into a model for sustainability
<p>Alistair Campbell and his son Duncan run Earnscleugh Station, a high country farm in the heart of Central Otago. They'd be too modest to tell you, but they produce some of New Zealand's highest quality merino sheep and beef studs.&nbsp;</p> <p>Alistair's family has been farming since his great grandfather left Ireland and they've been in Alexandra since 1981. After decades in the industry, they've faced their share of challenges, from 19 per cent interest rates to large scale rabbit infestations.</p> <p>But recently they've set an ambitious challenge for themselves - to meet the highest standards for animal welfare and sustainability under the NZ Merino ZQRX index platform.</p> <h3><b>A rabbit infestation inspires a rethink</b></h3> <p>Earnscleugh Station is 50,000 acres of high country land spanning in altitude from 550 ft (168 metres) at its lowest to over 5600 (1706 metres) ft at its highest.</p> <p>One of the biggest challenges the farm has ever faced is a common one - rabbits. At one point, Alistair says their population exploded and they ate up everything from low altitude to 3000 feet:</p> <p>&quot;Eventually we found that short grass triggers rabbit breeding so we let the grass grow in those areas and saw changes right away.&quot;</p> <p>This was a lightbulb moment for Earnscleugh Station. They found that the tender country at low altitude started to improve. Rabbit numbers dropped rapidly and the soil began to rebuild and become more fertile. Then, as the soil regenerated, they began to see major benefits in their stock.</p> <h3><b>ZQRX and future sustainability</b></h3> <p>Since the success of their pest control programme, Alistair and Duncan have continued with sustainability and regeneration-focused changes.</p> <p>With the help of an agronomist, 13 years of photo points across the station show that their heavily grazed land is not deteriorating. Scrub areas are now no-spray-zones to encourage native biodiversity - and waterways are regularly monitored to ensure they're clean and healthy, and problems are quickly identified and fixed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Carbon monitoring of plots is also underway with the aim of eventually moving toward a fully carbon neutral model.&nbsp;</p> <h3><b>Aiming higher</b></h3> <p>Earnscleugh is aiming for New Zealand's highest score with ZQRX - an industry body focused on the regenerative management of environment, animals and people - so that their wool is considered the gold standard in ethical agricultural products.&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;Making these changes is a way to preserve the land and the environment for the future,&quot; Alistair says.</p> <p>&quot;But it's also good for business. Firms that visit us these days are more concerned with sustainability and animal welfare than seeing the wool.&quot;</p> <h3><b>Making change happen</b></h3> <p>ASB's GM for Rural Ben Speedy says the challenges faced by Earnsclaugh are shared by most farmers:</p> <p>&quot;While New Zealand agriculture is among the most efficient in the world, customer demand for the quality products we produce is changing, therefore addressing the impacts of climate change and minimising our environmental footprint remain both a key opportunity and challenges for our industry.&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;ASB is focussed on supporting farmers to improve their environmental footprints.&quot;</p> <p>From reducing run-off to installing solar panels and everything in between, an ASB Rural Sustainability Loan can help farmers and growers bring their environmental goals to life.&nbsp;</p> <p>To find out more about ASB's Rural Sustainability Loan or speak to an expert, visit <a title="Rural Sustainability Loan" href="/content/asb/business-loans/en/business-loans/rural-sustainability-loan.html" target="_self">asb.co.nz/ruralsustainability</a>.</p> <p><i>This article was first published on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/agribusiness/126318111/how-one-otago-farmer-combined-sustainable-farming-with-premium-merino" target="_blank" title="Stuff.co.nz">stuff.co.nz</a></i></p>