Reviving the koura
Logan Wallace is fully immersed in water quality and nutrient management. Lynda Gray reports.
The trickle down of nutrient and water-wise action is filtering through on the Wallace family’s South Otago farm.
Fewer weed-congested waterways is one visible sign and another, although difficult to pick out with the naked eye, are the tiny freshwater crayfish (koura) clinging to the underside of rocks in some of the streams.
Since taking on management of the 290 hectare farm four years ago Logan Wallace, 26), has rolled out practical strategies to reduce sediment and phosphorus run-off.
“Phosphorus and E- coli run-off into our waterways is our biggest issue,” he says.
He’s got baseline figures on nutrient load levels from when the farm was part of an Otago Regional Council 2008 monitoring study, and has also carried water discharge tests. Although comfortable with where the results sit he’s turning attention to weed growth in the digger-straightened and cleaned waterways running through the farm.
“My aim is to get the streams to the state where they don’t need regular cleaning out but have enough plant life to soak up nutrients without causing an issue.”
Logan Wallace, Waipahi, South Otago
Manager of the family’s sheep and contract stock grazing farm
290ha (270ha effective), including 30ha of tussock hill country
2200 Romney-Texel ewes
To increase farm size and employ a full-time worker
Take on agricultural industry leadership roles
Nutrient mitigation strategies are in place and there are plans to roll out a few more as cash and time permits. So far almost one kilometre of waterways has been fenced, and another two kilometres is targeted. Best management practices are followed such as leaving three-metre buffer strips between cultivated land and waterways and grazing winter crop paddocks from the highest to lowest-lying point.
Critical source areas have been identified, such as the natural wetland which has been planted out and excavated in places for more efficient trapping of sediment. Logan plans to make another sediment trap in a troublesome gully where water accumulates over the winter.
Getting to grips with nutrient limits creates extra work and expense but Logan can see the long-term benefits and is generally in agreement with the Otago Regional Council’s land and water plan.
A big help in keeping him up to speed with nutrient and water quality issues and best management practices is the Pomahaka Water Care Group (PWCG) he joined four years ago. The group has 80 farmer members whose mission is to clean up the 2000 square kilometre catchment that not so long ago was identified as having “fair” water quality in the lower reaches due to high levels of E. coli and nitrogen.
The catchment in south and west Otago has about 360 farms which range from intensive downland dairy to extensive hill and tussock country. The group has arrested decline in water quality and built a clearer understanding of where and how degradation is happening through a two-pronged strategy.
As well as encouraging simple onfarm management changes, catchment-wide testing is undertaken in addition to what’s done by the Otago Regional Council (ORC). Farmers each pay $250 annually for testing four times a year at 28 sites across 11 tributaries. The group was also involved in the review of the council’s 300-page water plan – a document Logan has read cover-to-cover – and provided feedback on the issues they believe needed addressing.
“One of the key messages that we sent was that the council needs to sort out a strategy on how they will deal with serious non-compliance.”
Next year the group will start a project in conjunction with ORC to see if a single catchment consent process can be successfully applied for control of weed and sediment issues in the Wairuna catchment, which includes the Wallaces’ farm.
“We’re thinking that it doesn’t make sense for individual farmers to apply for consent to achieve the same thing. If we can use a single consent it should save everybody time and money. The council has said they will help us out so now it’s a matter of getting farmers to agree on what exactly needs to happen.”
Logan was placed fifth in last year’s Young Farmers national final as well as taking first place in the agri-sports and second in the practical components. It was his first go at the national title and he was very pleased with his overall result. The three-month lead up to the final was “self-inflicted punishment” involving a personal fitness trainer, up to two days a week of study and extra onfarm support from his dad, Ross.
“I put maintenance on the back burner and did the bare essentials.”
He felt reasonably well prepared going into the final and drew on experience from previous regional finals to help him through.
“I learnt from two years ago that when things go wrong in a module you just have to forget it and carry on.”
He is targeting another grand final but is taking a break this year partly to recharge and on the advice of a former winner.
“He said to wait until it was hosted in your home province. In 2018 it will be held in Otago/Southland and will also be the 50th anniversary of the competition.”
Tertiary study and membership of skill-building clubs have helped developed Logan’s wider farming career. He completed a Certificate in Agriculture and Diploma in Rural Business at Telford in 2008-2009, during which he joined YFC.
He chose Telford ahead of other tertiary agricultural learning providers because of the practical emphasis and his struggle with getting things down on paper.
He furthered his communication skills by joining the Gore toastmasters group which has provided invaluable presentation and public speaking tips that have been put to good use during YFC competitions. He’s pursued a slightly different type of learning since joining the Land Search and Rescue 18 months ago as a volunteer. To date he’s joined in on one search and a couple of staged recovery exercises.
Logan manages the farm with occasional help only from his parents Ross and Alexa. Logan leases the farm and has part-shares in the stock with his parents.
“Getting mum and dad as part-shareholders in the stock was the only way for me to get the backing of the bank.”
Eventually he would like to buy more land and take on a full-time employee to make time for leadership roles within the farming industry.
Sheep breeding and lamb finishing is the main focus with an important secondary income stream from contract stock grazing. This year 540 hoggets from North Canterbury grazed from autumn until the end of October. Heifer calves arrived in December and will depart in May 2018.
All but the 30ha of tussock hill country is developed, although Logan has taken the first steps by chemical topping rather than cultivating the rocky land, then oversowing with red and white clover.
“My aim is to produce more high quality feed but retain the red tussock for shelter and aesthetics.”
The next step will be applying lime, but how exactly is the question.
“We’ll need to fly it on but I’m still figuring out how because we don’t have access to a conventional airstrip.”