A chance to show what is happening in the dairy industry led
Ealing farmers Mark and Devon Slee to enter the Ballance Farm
The couple said with growing interest in the dairying
industry in Canterbury in the past five to 10 years, they
were keen to show there were a lot of farmers working to
succeed in the social, environmental and financial areas
covered by the awards.
Their entry paid off. They won the supreme award for the
Canterbury region and were also presented with the LIC Dairy
Farm Award, the PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award and the
WaterForce Integrated Management Award.
Melrose Dairy Limited milks more than 2600 cows on three
dairy units on 1014ha. With a milking platform of 660ha, last
year the operation produced 1834kg milksolids/ha, well above
the region's average.
The award judges said the Slees were top industry performers
who had demonstrated the ability to run a highly profitable
dairy business, while ensuring excellent environmental
They described the business as a proven family operation that
had achieved long-term growth and success through innovation,
discipline and sound business management.
Melrose Dairy was an industry leader in profitability, the
judges said. It was one of four top privately-run Canterbury
farms against which Lincoln University measured the
performance of its dairying operations.
During the 2012-13 season, Lincoln achieved a profitability
margin of more than $4600/ha compared with $5200/ha for
Melrose Dairy, which was top of this benchmark group.
Mr Slee's parents, Syd and Morrell, converted the original
365ha sheep and beef farm in 1987. Mark and Devon, who have
two young sons, started managing the property in 1991. They
later bought the home farm, adding two neighbouring
properties and a dairy support unit.
The operation now runs two 60-bale farm dairies and one
50-bale unit. Irrigation is provided via a centre-pivot
system and herd size is kept under 1000 to place less
pressure on the cows and staff.
Mr Slee has always had a strong interest in irrigation. He is
a past director of the Mayfield Hinds Irrigation Scheme, and
of Rangitata Diversion Race Management Ltd and a current
member of the board of Irrigation New Zealand.
IrrigationNZ chief executive office Andrew Curtis said the
Slees' sustainable irrigation practices and investment in
technology played a large part in their win.
''Mark and Devon are among our top performing irrigators
because of their significant investment in technology and
personal commitment to reducing their environmental
footprint,'' Mr Curtis said.
''By monitoring soil moisture to assess water need and by
using GPS technology to check sprinkler application, the
result is highly targeted and efficient irrigation.''
Mr Slee said the couple had been well supported by Dairy NZ
as they developed the business.
Originally sheep farmers in Southland, the Slee family moved
to Mid Canterbury in 1980. He completed his education at
Ashburton College, Flock House and Lincoln University.
Melrose Dairy employs 13 fulltime employees and two
part-time. Two of the dairy units are run by managers, with a
contract milker on the other. Most employees are New
Zealanders but they also have staff from South Africa and the
The award judges praised the Slees' outstanding staff
management and their high level of awareness and
consideration towards staff. This has resulted in low staff
Environmental sustainability is a focus of the awards.
Existing shelterbelts have been retained where possible, but
in areas where trees have been removed to accommodate the
irrigation system, these trees have been replaced with
low-growing native species. The couple have planted more than
10,000 native trees. The couple's management of land, labour
and capital was exceptional, the judges said.
A field day will be held on the farm, at the end of April or
the beginning of May.
- by Maureen Bishop