Water system a winner on Mt Watkins

David and Sarah Smith. Photo supplied.
David and Sarah Smith. Photo supplied.
Switching to a gravity-fed water system has paid off for East Otago farmers David and Sarah Smith.

The couple are equity managers on a 1463ha property, Mt Watkins, near Waikouaiti, farming in partnership with Mr Smith's parents Rex and Glenys.

The family purchased the original 920ha block in 2005 and bought another 510ha, which was previously leased, three years ago.

Mt Watkins now carries up to 9500 stock units, including 5000 ewes and hoggets and 460 Friesian bulls.

In recent years, there has been an extensive development programme designed to improve infrastructure, increase soil fertility and lift pasture performance on the steep hill-country farm.

A key part of that programme included the construction of a large dam near the top of the farm to store and supply farm water.

''Before we built the dam, we had to pump river water up a 400m lift using a two-stage pumping system.

''It was a very expensive system to run and we had a lot of problems with pumps breaking down,'' Mr Smith said.

Completed in 2011, the new system saved the Smiths an estimated $1200 a month in electricity costs and pump maintenance.

''It's more reliable and it's much more sustainable,'' Mr Smith said.

The couple collected three category awards in this year's Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards, including the energy excellence award.

That award recognised farmers driving excellence in utilising on-farm opportunities to generate or maximise energy efficiently.

Judges described Mr and Mrs Smith as an enthusiastic young couple with a strong desire to succeed and a real focus on sustainable development.

Participating in the competition confirmed they were ''on the right track'' as far as sustainability was concerned, while it also highlighted some areas they needed to work on in the future, Mr Smith said.

They realised their farm budgeting skills were not as good as they could be. Mrs Smith was now studying for a diploma in agribusiness which would help them improve their business management skills.

Entries are open for the 2015 Ballance Farm Environment Awards.