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Sam and Jo Spencer-Bower, winners of the People in Primary Sector Award at the Ballance Farm Environment Awards 2024

When it comes to environmental sustainability, dairy farming gets a bad rap. But Sam and Jo Spencer-Bower are proving that with a bit of planning, smart technology and the right attitude, dairying can have a manageable environmental footprint.

Out in Eyrewell on Sam’s fifth-generation family farm, Claxby Estate, the couple and their management team have implemented a range of systems and regulations that aim to measure and minimise their operation’s environmental impact, and futureproof the farm.

“We have a 100-year vision here, and that is to leave the best possible farm for future generations,” explains Sam.

In 2012, Sam took over as Operations Manager of Claxby Estate and converted the farm to dairy. Across 960ha, Claxby’s team of 11 are running two dairy units with 1,000 cows in each. From the get-go, Sam and Jo were focussed on maintaining a light environmental footprint and reducing costs.

“We installed high quality infrastructure when converting and set out to carefully manage our irrigation and fertiliser use. We also set out to focus on optimising our systems and embrace technology as much as possible,” explains Sam.

“The system optimisation work started with using a farm consultant to analyse our system through modelling software and benchmark against his client base. We dropped our stocking rate and used our supplement feed more strategically. We also changed the pasture management software we were using.”

Although utilising the latest tech means a learning curve for staff, Sam says it more than makes up for it through the ability to measure the farm’s environmental outputs.

“We use programmes called Overseer and Farmax to model our environmental outputs, particularly nitrogen loss or surplus and greenhouse gas emissions. We also submit our farm data annually to Fonterra, who generate performance and environmental reports.”

Pleasingly, all of the data generated from Claxby Estate shows they have been tracking in the right direction across all reports as they continue to adjust their systems.

Sam says the implementation of new systems has required some effort and attention to detail, but the benefits far outweigh the work involved.

“You feel more in control of your destiny when you start fully analysing and benchmarking your systems. It also makes things more interesting, and the staff have actually become more engaged. It’s a positive challenge for us all.”

Claxby Estate was first farmed by Sam’s great-great-grandfather Marmaduke Dixon in 1852. Mr Dixon introduced a number of agricultural tools and processes to the Canterbury region, founded the Northern A & P Association and sent Canterbury’s first wheat export to Britain. Five generations later, and the Spencer-Bower family retain a proud farming reputation; one which now rides on Sam’s shoulders. Even though he’s doing things differently than his forefathers, he has no doubt that the changes made will benefit the farm and leave it in great stead for generations to come.

“I’m proud that we are moving our farm and family forward, while balancing our environmental responsibilities here at Claxby Estate.”

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